Newen Connect, the distribution arm of the TF1-owned group Newen Group, has boarded “Balaton Brigade,” a prestige historical spy thriller series directed by Ildikó Enyedi, the Oscar-nominated Hungarian director of “On Body and Soul” and “The Story of My Wife” which competed at Cannes.
Created by Gábor Krigler (“Terapia”), Balázs Lengvel (“Thos Janos”) and Balázs Lovas, the eight-part series was previously pitched at the Berlinale Series Market and was selected to be presented at Series Mania’s CoPro Pitching Sessions as part of the partnership between the two industry events. The show, which is produced by Joyrider and Film Force, and co-produced by Martin Heisler at Flare Entertainment in Germany, garnered strong buzz at the Berlinale and sparked the interest of more than 50 companies.
“Balaton Brigade” is set in 1986, amid the Cold War, during a long hot summer in a seemingly idyllic Hungarian summer resort. Located by the Balaton Lake, the popular venue turns out to be under the rigorous surveillance of a Stasi unit whose mission is to observe Eastern German holiday-makers to make sure they don’t flee to the West. The story revolves around a hardened Stasi agent who faces off against a young reform Communist from East Germany and brings his own daughter into the game.
Krigler said he first heard about the Stasi unit stationed at Lake Balaton from an Austrian producer a few years ago.
“Growing up next to the lake and having spent all my childhood summers on its beaches, the idea of an invisible, dark underbelly to the magical summer location was immediately appealing to me,” said Krigler.
The co-creator said that while the show boasts several genre elements, there are “no stolen nuclear weapons, escaping deadly viruses, high profile assassinations;” and the “main emphasis is on the human drama, the emotional stakes.”
“We want to show that being born on the wrong side of history, or subscribing to different ideologies do not make anyone automatically corrupt,” explained Krigler, pointed out to the stereotypical depiction of communists in popular spy fiction.
“Balaton Brigade” will also boast some understated dark humor. “There’s something comic in the concept of ‘spies in Speedos,’ something very bizarre in the juxtaposition of the sun, fun and youthful energy with the sinister work of the Stasi agents.”
The acquisition by Newen Connect fits the company’s rising ambitions. Rodolphe Buet, who oversees the banner, recently outlined the company’s mandate to expand its scope and board premium international drama projects at an early stage.
Since joining the project, Newen Connect brought in Flare Entertainment as co-producers. A German writer, who is originally from East Germany and has first-hand experience of life in the 1980’s, will soon be added to the team.
“More than making another series with the theme ‘Stasi’ or ‘escape’ – there are already a few of those – we are planing to create a character-driven series against the background of the increasingly disintegrating GDR,” said Heisler.
“No matter which system you live in, if there is injustice it’s about people who suffer and struggle with the circumstances; and we want to tell their personal stories. The extreme political conditions offer the perfect setup for extreme personal stories,” added Heisler.
The producers are currently scouting for a top-notch German filmmaker to share directorial duties with Enyedi, whose rolling off “The Story of My Wife,” a period drama with Lea Seydoux and Gijs Naber which world premiered in competition at Cannes this year.
“Balaton Brigade” will shoot mainly in German and Hungarian with some English and a bit of Russian. At Series Mania, Heisler said he would like to introduce the project to German broadcasters, among other potential partners.