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How the Berlinale is a Launch Pad for Global TV

Anyone who casts an eye over the long-form dramas premiering at this year’s Berlin Intl. Film Festival can find many series that are ripe for picking by new territories — as well as plenty that have already been pounced on by in-the-know buyers.

Since it launched five years ago, the Berlinale Series program has become a launch pad for European scripted shows. Meanwhile, its Drama Series Days, with Market Screenings framing such series as “Harassment” (pictured) this year, has grown as a financing and acquisitions event at the European Film Market.

“In the current audiovisual landscape, drama series are an important part of our industry,” says Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick. “That’s why we wanted to include them not only at the EFM, but also in our public program.”

For their part, producers and distributors say they like launching series at a festival such as Berlin. It lends a certain cachet and prestige to a show, says Tom Coan, the executive producer of “Hanna,” an eight-part remake of the 2011 Joe Wright film, which premieres in the Berlinale Series.

On the flip side, the Berlinale has actively sought to align itself with the growing ambition and spending power of TV drama in Europe.

“Our line-up this year is a perfect example of the amazing way European drama production has come,” says Solmaz Azizi, head of Berlinale Series. Explaining the boom, she cites the increased investment of streaming services and pay TV and also the stories being told by public broadcasters. “I wouldn’t limit the influence to the private sector only.”

Seven titles are getting the red-carpet treatment at the Zoo Palast this year: the Amazon-backed “Hanna,” produced out of the U.K. by NBCU Intl. Studios; “M — A City Hunts a Murderer,” an Austrian drama inspired by Fritz Lang’s classic film “M”; Germany’s “8 Days,” about humanity’s last moments before a meteor strike; Netflix’s first Swedish original, “Quicksand,” about a school shooting; and the second season of Israeli thriller “False Flag.” There’s also French miniseries “Il Etait Une Seconde Fois” (“Twice Upon a Time”) and Danish noir “Bedrag III.”

Each of them, though, neatly reflects how European drama has become more ambitious in scale and storytelling — as if determined to catch the eye of the international market.

“Hanna,” in particular, is one of a new breed of globally focused, European-made and SVOD-financed dramas — and stars young British actress Esme Creed-Miles in what’s said to be a break-out role. Hanna is written by David Farr, who also co-wrote the original film.

“Film is more of a medium of directors than writers, and David had a vision for it that didn’t make it onto the screen,” says Coan. He adds that the TV series allowed him to build out the characters.

Coan says “Hanna” is particularly European in execution, and was based in Budapest, shooting in Slovakia, Spain, Germany, the U.K. and Morocco. Such international dramas used to be a hard sell, but that’s no longer the case, says Coan, citing the growth of SVOD platforms and the growth of “a global sensibility brought about by the rise of the internet.”

Moritz von Kruedener, the managing director of Beta Film, which is selling “M — A City Hunts a Murderer,” says it’s now easier to sell European subtitled drama, particularly to the U.S. “In the past, it was impossible.”

A reimagining of one of Germany’s most famous films, about a series of child murders, “M” is bound to make waves at the Berlinale — even though the setting has transferred from Berlin to Vienna.

Beta has already sold the pay TV rights for Russia, CIS, Poland and Brazil. Scandinavia is in final negotiations. Von Kruedener says there is “definite interest” from the U.S., mainly from SVOD platforms. “We are in detailed conversations with them. It’s quite realistic for us to get a U.S. deal.”

Sky Deutschland’s “8 Days,” meanwhile, has sold in 30 markets, including the U.K. and CIS, according to Jason Simms, director of drama at distributor Sky Vision. HBO pre-bought the series for the Nordics and Central Europe, and Sky Vision is in discussions with potential U.S. partners.

Ostensibly, “8 Days” is about how society falls to pieces before a deadly meteor strike. But the producer, NeueSuper, tells human, intimate stories against a backdrop of anarchy, Simms says.

“Amidst the storm, they’ve found a way to ask a very powerful question: What would you do?”

In a similar vein, Keshet Media Group’s thriller “False Flag 2” is about ordinary families caught up in extraordinary events — in this case an attack on an Israeli-Turkish oil pipeline.

“It’s about regular people involved in something bigger than them,” says Karni Ziv, Keshet head of drama and comedy.

Another intriguing drama to premiere is Arte’s “Il Etait Une Seconde Fois,” directed by Guillaume Nicloux, about a man who can travel back in time. Jean-Michel Ciszewski, head of sales at distributor Federation Entertainment, compares it to a film split into four parts. “Its unique point of view coupled with the playing with time and exceptional actors makes this series stand out,” he says.

As such it’s at the more arthouse end of the Berlinale Series program. That said, Azizi believes the festival’s mix of crowd-pleasers and cinematic stories should all find international buyers.

“With the changing series landscape and the way audiences are watching these days, it’s safe to say that they all have a chance at travelling outside their home territories,” she says.

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