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Series Mania 2021: 7 Takes, from Netflix, Disney & HBO to Buzz Titles and France’s Content Revolution

Kamikaze
‘Kamikaze’ Credit: Asmund Sollihogda

Top European TV fest Series Mania bowed with a bang at Thursday’s opening night in-person gala in Lille, northern France hosting the international premiere of the ITV Studios-sold “Vigil.”

Juries and programming were presented to a hugely enthusiastic 1,200 spectator audience packing out Lille’s main Nouveau Siècle theater.

The bang, when it came to “Vigil,” a BBC nuclear submarine thriller, came via a tremendous opening scene of a Scottish fishing trawler being pulled into the icy depths of the North Sea by an unseen force caught up in its cables – a terrific calling card for current U.K. TV production values.

Tightly written and muscularly directed by James Strong (“Broadchurch”) – as you’d expect from World Productions, producer of “Bodyguard” and “Line of Duty” – episode one of “Vigil”played to admiring audience applause on Thursday night.

More potential Series Mania’s hits await. Running Aug. 26 – Sept. 3, Series Mania looks set to showcase premieres of some of the biggest banner series from Europe. At one and the same time, it will also reflect major trends shaping the international drama series industry. Following, seven takes:

Platform Power

The new studio streamers – Netflix, Disney Plus and HBO Max – will be out in force at Series Mania and look set to make much of the running this year. That takes in honors – Christina Sulebakk, general manager of HBO Max EMEA, will pick up Series Mania’s first Woman in Series Award – as well as shows and panel debate. Netflix will sneak peak two much-awaited French shows, “On the Verge” from Julie Delpy (“Before Sunset”) and “Drôle” from “Call My Agent!” creator Fanny Herrero. The two biggest keynotes at Aug. 31’s Lille Dialogues look set to be given by Disney Plus and HBO Max as they drill down on strategy in Europe. HBO Europe will also world premiere one of the hottest tickets in main Series Mania competition, “Kamikaze,” its first Danish original, a wild globe-tripping chronicle of an 18-year-old girl’s seeking reasons to go on living.

Buzz Titles

No International Competition title has yet screened at Series Mania. Of contenders, some of which remain under the radar, there’s bullish word on “Kamikaze” and also “Furia,” produced by Norway’s Monster and Germany’s X Filme (“Babylon Berlin”), a contemporary nationalist terrorism thriller moving from an idyllic Norwegian fjord to Berlin as its canvas broadens. Early fruit of pan-European pubcaster axis The Alliance, being backed by France Televisions and Italy’s Rai Fiction, “Germinal,” an adaptation of Emile Zola’s classic,also has its fans. Buzzy projects at the Forum’s Co-Pro Pitching Sessions take in “La Palma,” “Prison Boy,” “The Rabbi,” “Moresnet,” “In 1942” and “Picadero.”

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“Furia” Credit: Keshet International

An On-Site Series Mania Bounces Back

Despite the no-show of U.S. and Asia executives and caution over in-person attendance by the U.K. industry, on-site industry accreditations were running at 2,000 five days out from the Forum, Series Mania’s industry get-together. That compares to 2,700 delegates in 2019, the latest in-person edition of the TV festival. Many delegates, just back from vacation, are still signing up, said Laurence Herzberg, Series Mania founder and general director. “People want to meet, which is a very good sign for the industry in general and also for Series Mania,” she said. The Forum’s industry centerpiece, its Co-Pro Pitching sessions, received 560 applications this year, near twice the usual number, reported Forum director Francesco Capurro.

Channeling the Drama Series Revolution

Such bullish figures are a sign of the industry times, Herzberg argues. Launched in 2010 at Paris’ Forum des Images, Series Mani has built as much more of a meet than mart, said Herzberg. 10 years later, given the now huge demand for content from studio streamers, “the industry needs more and more to connect with potential partners and new faces, new talent. If you want to invest in a project, you have to meet the people that you’re going to spend two or three years with. That’s not something that you can really do online,” Herzberg argues.

Series Mania: A Year Round Talent Hub

Some observers would go further, arguing that the demand for content is now outstripping key talent supply. The logical consequence is that the general level for series will go down, not up. Enter Series Mania. If COVID-19 has had a longterm effect on the drama series event, it’s that it has given Series Mania time to think how it serves industry needS in a longer-term future. One innovation this year, the Creative Bazaar, running Aug. 25-29, will host under one roof Series Mania’s three training programs: the UGC Writers Campus; the Israel-France, Co-Writing Residency; and a new Deental Series Workshop for writers/producers from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Another, an Industry and Talents Who’s Who will serve as a year-round guide to talent, Capurro says.

The 2021 French Revolution

Just a decade ago, when playing local networks, most French series were blown out of the waters by big U.S. crime drama franchises: “The Mentalist,” “Criminal Minds.” No more. Three French media giants, Banijay, Mediawan and Newen, will be prominent at this year’s Series Mania, None, at least at their current scale, are more than six years old. Banijay’s Stéphane Courbit will deliver a keynote, a rare public appearance, at Aug. 31’s Lille Dialogues, to explain the company’s strategy. In events and titles, French companies already dominate Europe’s international film scene. They now have the ambition to at least equal the U.K.’s TV power in Europe. Already, the most-watched non-English language series on Netflix is now “Lupin,” produced by France’s Gaumont, not – at least until its final part, to be seen at Series Mania, bows next week – Spain’s “Money Heist.”

The Drama Series Boom Goes Worldwide

Great series can come from anywhere, Netflix execs are fond of saying. And now they pretty well do. As studio streamers focus on building local subscriber bases in major markets, many of the most exciting local titles wowing audiences worldwide may indeed increasingly come from what were traditionally regarded as secondary markets. “Production in the Balkans or Turkey is now up to international standards,” says Herzberg. This year’s Series Mania will be low on U.S. productions. “The U.S. industry was generally more cautious about production restarts and such has been the demand for new U.S. series that few could wait until Series Mania to premiere,” says Herzberg. So there’s more room at this year’s event for titles from farer-flung places. There’s large curiosity, for instance, around Kaan Müjdeci̇’s “Hamlet,” a modern-day fantasy adaptation from Turkey’s Gain Medya, which plays International Competition, and Croatia’s “The Last Socialist Artefact,” directed by Dalibor Matanić, as the Balkans consolidates as an international film hub.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

“Anna,” (Niccolò Ammaniti, Italy)

“Blackport,” (Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Maria Reyndal, Iceland)

“Furia,” (Magnus Martens, Lars Kraume, Germany Norway)

“Germinal,” (David Hourrègue, France)

“Hamlet,” (Kaan Müjdeci, Turkey)

“Jerusalem,” (Ilan Aboody, Israel)

“Kamikaze,” (Kaspar Munk, Denmark)

“The Echo of Your Voice,” (Tom Shoval, Israel)

 

FRENCH COMPETITION

“L’Opéra,” (Cécile Ducrocq, Stéphane Demoustier, Laïla Marrakchi, Inti Calfat, Dirk Verheye, France)

“Lol Stepmom,” Fanny Sidney, France)

“Nona and Her Daughters,” (Valérie Donzelli, France)

“Or De Lui,” (Baptiste Lorber, France)

“Rebecca,” Didier Le Pêcheur, France)

“The Code,” (Jean-Christophe Delpias, France)

 

INTERNATIONAL PANORAMA

“Colorful Life,” (David David, Colombia)

“Dark Soul,” (Sophie Deraspe, Canada)

“Dough,” (Levan Akin, Mattias J Skoglund, Måns Månsson, Sweden)

“Dr. Death,” (Maggie Kiley, Jennifer Morrison, So Yong So Yong Kim, U.S.)

“Kevin Can F**k Himself,” (Oz Rodriguez, U.S.)

“Mouse,” (Joon Bae Choi, Cheol-Woo Kang, South Korea)

“Pørni,” (Gunnar Vikene, Charlotte Blom, Norway)

“Sort Of,” (Fab Filippo, Renuka Jeyapalan, Canada)

“The Bite,” (Brooke Kennedy, Lonny Price, U.S.)

“The Last Socialist Artefact,” (Dalibor Matanic, Croatia)

“The Unusual Suspects,” (Natalie Bailey, Melvin J.Montalban, Australia)

“The Vampires of Midland,” (Anton Maslov, Russia)

“Time,” (Lewis Arnold, U.K)

“Wakefield,” (Jocelyn Moorhouse, Kim Mordaunt, Australia)

“We Are Lady Parts,” (Nida Manzoor, U.K.)