Eight years after launching in Paris’ Forum des Images, the ever-growing Series Mania festival will use its first edition in the northeastern city of Lille as a kind of soft reboot, banking on the accumulated value of the Series Mania brand while substantially broadening its scope and sweep.
Running from April 27-May 5 in France’s fifth-largest city, the TV-focused event will screen episodes from 77 series across a number of different programs, while also hosting an international cross-section of writers and producers during its Industry Forum running May 2-4.
Benefitting from a robust €3.5 million ($4.3 million) investment from the regional government and the opportunities offered by Lille’s relatively compact urban core, the organizers hope to foster a more outwardly encompassing atmosphere than previous editions, which had remained confined to Paris’ Forum des Images complex.
General director Laurence Herszberg, who launched the festival in Paris and has followed it north, cites the South by Southwest festival as a multidisciplinary guiding beacon; beyond the festival village and outdoor expos, Series Mania will hold events incorporating local culture, street artists and musical acts. An event called Eat Your Series, for instance, will begin as a conference devoted to the culinary arts on the small screen before giving way to a “Game of Thrones”-inspired feast prepared by local chefs and designed to point out the similarities between Northern France’s hearty fare and that of the “Thrones’” fictional kingdom of Westeros.
All of this comes as result of an industry desire to create a touchstone international festival — to be for television what Cannes is for arthouse cinema and Annecy for animation. However, Series Mania is not the only contender for that title; the recently wrapped Canneseries (which ran alongside the MipTV market Aril 4-11) also launched this year under the guidance of former culture minister Fleur Pellerin and with support of cable heavyweight Canal Plus.
Though industry watchers see the similar festivals butting heads, Series Mania’s incoming president Rodolphe Belmer, who served as Canal Plus’ CEO from 2012 until 2015, argues otherwise.
“A festival is not a competitive enterprise,” he says. “A festival is a defined by an editorial line, by an editorial ambition and by a capacity for promotion. … If we succeed, we’ll have paved our path, and even if alternative offerings exist, it won’t impede us.”
In order to succeed, Belmer notes, “we want to create an image that hits three points: high editorial standards, openness and accessibility to the public and promotional might.”
He sees Lille, which is accessible to London, Paris and Brussels by train and which houses a considerable student population, as being key to those last two points. The festival hopes to spur local engagement by offering all tickets for free, and its box office had already distributed nearly 9,000 of them within hours of opening on its first day.
In terms of programing, the festival will premiere series from Netflix and Paramount Network in its official competition, while screening other shows from Amazon, HBO and Hulu in various other selections. Herszberg has a ready explanation for the fact that many dominant American broadcasters have chosen to go through Lille.
“We’ve been working with those platforms for eight years already,” she notes. “We were the first to say, ‘let’s create a festival about series.’ So clearly, we have an existing network and connections.” Plus, “everyone knows it’s international — [the name] Series Mania works in every language.”
Though the festival team plans to continue expanding its co-production forum in the next few years, there is at least one direction they are pointedly seeking to avoid.
“We don’t want to add another market for buying and selling,” says artistic director Frederic Lavigne. “There are already plenty of those. We’re driven by content, by the people who make series, and we want to use that interface to put those people in contact. And hopefully, we’ll be able to program those resulting series in one, two or three years.”