Series Mania will present a starry tableau for its 10th anniversary, as it returns to Lille for the second time at the end of March. Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlanti’s CBS anthology series “The Red Line” is set to open the French TV festival, and Amazon’s “Hanna,” featuring “The Killing” stars Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos, will close. Ted Sarandos is giving a keynote at the industry arm of the festival, while Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” reboot will premiere two episodes, with actor Adam Scott delivering a masterclass after the screening. “Black Mirror” creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones; “The Good Doctor” star Freddie Highmore; and Uma Thurman, whose Netflix series “Chambers” is the only U.S. show in the 10-title competition, are also set to deliver masterclasses while in attendance.
It is no coincidence that these stars are flocking March 22-30 to northeast France.
“When Series Mania was held in Paris we were really focused on the professional activities and on showrunners and script writers,” says Laurence Herszberg, the event’s founder and managing director. “By moving to Lille, the focus is more on talent. We really expanded the festival by going there.”
The main reason for the event’s evolution into a bona fide celebrity attraction, Herszberg says, is that unlike when Series Mania was a small part of a bustling capital, the festival now takes over the town of approximately 230,000 inhabitants, making it a city-wide event.
“The audience there is one of the most welcoming,” he says. “It’s a celebration for the public. They see all the big stars that they like, French and international, and we know how to curate series from all over the world.”
For the talent, such as returning attendee Julianna Margulies, who this year serves as a member of the jury, artistic director Frederic Lavigne says the experience offers something different from other industry events in its ability to dig deep into the artistic process.
“What strikes me every year is that the talent is very happy to get questions from the audience and from us, the artistic team, while on stage,” Lavigne says. “The types of questions they receive at the festival goes really deep into the artistic values of their work. In France, series are really works of art, so we go quite deep into the artistic process. The questions are much deeper than what they are used to at events where you have to sell the series and promote them.”
Herszberg and Lavigne understand the importance of high-profile guests and programming, and how it elevates a festival.
“You need the media to make people aware of the festival,” Herzberg says. “To get the media, you have to have big stars. To have big stars, they have to know that the experience is going to be useful for them and the show that they are representing. Producers want to be in the lineup because they know that being at Series Mania or having an award at Series Mania creates buzz much faster and it’s easier for them to sell the show.”
The star-studded nature of the festival does not hurt smaller, harder-to-find series, the organizers say.
“It’s a synergy,” Herszberg says. “People are ready for discoveries and that’s what makes this festival unique. We won’t give up on selecting niche shows and really going all over the world to discover new trends in creativity.”
The founder is always surprised to see the audience go from a celebrity-anchored event to a screening of a more obscure entry, but has seen it enough times to know it happens.
“We’re known for selecting big shows and new discoveries,” he says. “What’s amazing about Lille and this audience is that they will go from one to the other.”
The inclusion of shows from Russia and Asia in Series Mania is as much a source of pride for Herszberg and Lavigne as landing the premiere for “Chambers,” a YA thriller from Stephen Gaghan and Turner’s multi-platform Super Deluxe, in which a young heart attack patient begins to take on the sinister characteristics of her deceased heart donor.
“A Netflix show is quite tricky to obtain so we are proud of that,” Lavigne says. “And we are proud of the world premieres.” Those include the much-anticipated Netflix series “Osmosis” and Amazon’s “Une Ile,” both in French competition.
The importance of having your series play internationally is not lost on those participating.
“To win would mean that we transcended international cultural boundaries,” says “Chambers” creator Leah Rachel.
As “The Red Line” premieres at Lille, series star Emayatzy Corinealdi says that a show about racial tension in Chicago can be just as relevant in France as on home turf. “Really, at the heart of ‘The Red Line,’ it’s about people,” she says. “People make mistakes. People see injustices that happen and try to do something about them, even if they don’t exactly know what. You get to understand the grief of a family and get behind the walls of the cops who were in these situations. I think those are the kinds of things that we could all experience. The more people you can be in conversation with, the better.”
Adds “Sharp Objects” creator Marti Noxon, who also serves as head of the jury this year, “I feel like [‘Sharp Objects’] starts rich conversations. Exposing it in a venue like Series Mania gives me another opportunity to hear about what works and what we could have done better.”
Both Rachel and Noxon heard about the festival from their colleagues,
who describe it as “absolutely electric.”
“I spoke to Chris Brancato [“Narcos: Mexico”], who went last year. He said it was really enriching,” says Noxon. “I was excited about the prospect of viewing new content and meeting people whose work I’ve admired. I always get so much out of meeting new artists and our conversations about the craft of making television.”
As Series Mania celebrates its 10-year anniversary, its founder is thrilled that there is a high-profile forum in which dialogue about the direction TV is headed is fully embraced by its participants.
Says Herszberg: “We’re very proud to have been the first one to see that something was happening in series television and you could create a festival and a celebration out of this kind of creativity for an audience, professionals, and all the decision makers around the world.”