Teresa Fernández Valdés: ‘Fariña,’ Bambu, Making Women’s Dramas

A profile of the Spanish producer, as ‘Fariña’ proves a career milestone and she receives a 2018 MipTV Medaille d’Honneur

Teresa Fernández-Valdés and Ramon Campos
Courtesy of Bambu Producciones

CANNES — The ‘80s-set true-life “Fariña – Snow On the Atlantic,” the latest drama from Bambu ProduccionesTeresa Fernández Valdés turns on how humble fishermen in Galicia, North-West Spain, turned into drug lords, importing 80% of Europe’s cocaine.

In one scene in the Atresmedia original series, sold by Beta Film, wannabe drug baron Sito Miñanco finally makes it onto the board of Galicia’s tobacco contraband cartel. Just a few years back, you’d imagine this scene coming in Ep. 3 or 4 of the series. The scene in fact takes place two thirds if the way through Ep. 1.

Packed into the first episode are Sito’s rise to local smuggler clan overlord; a family feud; his first contacts with a Panama drug cartel; the disintegration of his marriage; a snitch’s threat of exposure.

In another scene, the cigarette smugglers joke about upcoming local elections. The cartel should cough up some money to back their party’s candidates, already in power, its president said: “We have to feed those who feed us.”

Apart from Canal Plus España’s “Crematorium,” maybe no other series in Spanish history shows as clearly as “Fariña” the collusion between regional politicians and local crime.

But Madrid-based Bambu Producciones, founded in 2008 by Fernández Valdés and husband Ramón Campos, Spain’s foremost TV screenwriter, has spent a decade pushing the envelope in its free-to-air dramas.

The key to Bambu is “their capacity to always go one better. There’s no challenge they won’t take on, or can’t resolve. They have the flexibility to get round problems, won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” says Sonia Martínez, head of fiction at Spanish broadcast network group Atresmedia, Bambú’s most frequent production partner.

“Thanks to their innovative vision and creative approach, Teresa and Ramon have built Bambú into Spain’s leading independent production house, and one of the world’s most celebrated European TV producers, all in a mere ten years,” said Françoise Guyonnet, executive managing director TV series at Paris-based Studiocanal, which owns 33% of Bambú.

From its beginnings, Bambu has pushed production values.

“In terms of the ratio of value on the screen to production cost, Bambu hits the highest figure possible,” adds Jan Motjo, CEO of Beta Film, which has handled international sales on iconic Bambu titles such as “Gran Hotel,” “Velvet,” “Velvet Collection” and now “Fariña.”

Set at a Swinging Sixties Barcelona fashion-house – all mini-skirts in burnt-amber, pink and mustard yellow, high-heeled boots, and models with bobs, beehives and head-bands – “Velvet Collection” has scenes which can be watched for their exquisite palette and framing, the sound turned down.

“Fariña” was 100% shot on natural locations in Galicia, zero studio work, which gives the series a highly important production value,” says Fernández Valdés, who said that shooting 10 episodes back-to-back over eight months in Galicia was “difficult,” but “luckily it hardly rained.”

“‘Fariña’ targeted a public now prepared to see another type of TV,” says Fernández Valdés.

Fast-paced, politically candid, with full-frontal male nudity – though it wouldn’t be the first time that’s been seen on Spanish free-to-air TV – like most Bambú series, “Fariña” straddles the border between free-to-air and pay TV. It’s no coincidence that both Netflix and Movistar + turned to Bambú for their first original series in Spain: “Las chicas de cable” and “Velvet Collection,” the latter a spin-off of Atresmedia’s primetime series “Velvet”), viewed entirely or mainly as VOD in Spain.

In “Gran Hotel,” and all the more “Velvet,” Bambu have created a women’s melodrama which offers a modern alternative to audiences once fixated on long-running telenovelas or soaps. It is one reason why the titles have played so well in Latin America, helping Atresmedia Internacional, the Spanish broadcast network’s three-channel international pay-TV bouquet, to quadruple household reach to 50 million pay TV homes over 2013-2017. Viewership for Spanish series, such as “Velvet,” on Netflix in Latin America, was also one reason persuading the U.S., streaming giant to invest in more high-end Spanish series.

Set at Spain’s first Telefonica telephone exchange in the 1920s, “Chicas del cable” takes classic women’s melodrama staples – inter-class love, hidebound authorities, fate driving lovers apart – and recasts them in a narrative about the modernization of Spain, worked out in terms of its female protagonists’ love lives.

It’s in women’s series that Fernandez Valdes’ role at Bambu has maybe evolved most.

“Teresa was dedicated totally to production,” says Campos.

“But little by little she’s become more involved on the creative side, creating, with Gema [R. Niera] and me, women’s stories and characters which engage broad audiences in Spain,” he adds, citing “Las Chicas del cable” where she was “very much involved developing the characters.”

“We want to take simple stories and elevate them, enhance their production values so that female audiences feel they are being taken into account,” Fernández Valdés explains.

“Teresa and Ramón are ambitious, always trying something new and different,” said Motjo.

But “Velvet’s” runaway success has meant they were in danger of being buttonholed.

“Right now, the problem Bambú has is that all TV networks and platforms want us to continue making women’s melodramas, since they’re aren’t many producers specialized in that,” Fernández Valdes says. “Fariña has shown we can make other types of dramas.”

Campos agrees: “It’s an exciting time. After ‘Fariña’ nobody can say that a series with no big love story can’t work on open TV.”

Whatever directions they take, Bambu is well-positioned: It has ‘60s pop group-themed “45 Revoluciiones,” set up at Atresmedia, “It’s the most difficult thing we’ve done yet together,” Martínez comments.

“Las Chicas del cable” Season 3 will bow this year on Netflix; Bambu has projects at Movistar +.

Says Campos: “The real currency these days are the creators. Distributors, exhibitors, Netflix, HBO, Amazon, need to fill their platforms and only screenwriters can do that.”