Monte-Carlo Television Festival Places Bet on Quality

Monte Carlo Television Festival
Courtesy of Quizzical Pictures

A year later than expected, the Monte-Carlo Television Festival (June 18-22) is about to celebrate its 60th anniversary. The pandemic halted the celebrations last year, but Monte-Carlo is pressing ahead with plans for an in-person event on the Mediterranean coast this month — making it the first major European TV fest to take place in-person since COVID-19 took hold.

“We are proud of that,” says chief exec Laurent Puons, who adds the festival will be 80% in-person in Monte-Carlo and 20% digital.

“The festival is a celebration, so it’s better to have guests on site rather than at home.” Guests will require COVID-19 tests, while measures such as distancing and mask wearing will be in place, Puons says.

Known for its glamorous location, red carpets and press junkets, Monte-Carlo has in recent years carved out an important role as a European platform for American studios to promote shows and talent. Series such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Game of Thrones” have all launched at Monte-Carlo.

This year, of course, will be slightly different. With the U.S. government currently advising against travel to France, there will be few American guests so the festival will necessarily have a stronger focus on European projects. “Thankfully, a lot of European production is of a very high level,” Puons says.

The festival opens June 18 with the world premiere of South African crime thriller “Reyka,” produced for M-Net and distributed by Fremantle, with stars Kim Engelbrecht, Iain Glen, Thando Thabethe and Zee Ntuli due to attend. Politically, this could prove an astute move by the festival as Prince Albert II’s wife, Princess Charlene, hails from South Africa.

The heart of the festival remains the competition, which is split into fiction and news categories, as well as the Prince Rainier III Special Prize.

The fiction category has been tightened up this year so that nine dramas are competing compared with around 25 in previous years. Three of the dramas vying for one of the festival’s Golden Nymph Awards are world premieres: Spanish co-prod “Ana.All.In.,” Israeli thriller “Line in the Sand,” and Czech drama “The Defender.” Two U.S. titles also feature in competition: Miramax and Amazon Studios’ “Uncle Frank” and Paramount Television Studios’ “Made for Love.” The competition is rounded out by the U.K.’s Channel 4 hit “It’s a Sin” and Sky original “Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse,” Finland’s “Piece of My Heart” and Germany’s “The Unbearable Lightness of the Revolution.

For Puons, this focus on fewer titles is about emphasizing quality over quantity: “The quality of the competition was very good in the past, but with this new format we are sure it will be better.” The fiction jury is led by Swedish writer, director and producer Måns Mårlind (“Borgen,” “The Bridge”), whose drama “Shadowplay” was to open last year’s festival.

Mårlind will journey to MonteCarlo along with fellow jurors including “The Syndicate” writer and director Kay Mellor and “Das Boot” producer Moritz Polter.

“It will be nice, travelling to Monte-Carlo, and being in a room with other people talking about drama,” Mårlind says.

He notes that Monte-Carlo “really takes itself seriously” as a TV festival and wants to compete with the standing and stature of film festivals.

Meanwhile, 15 titles will compete in the news category across three sections — documentary film, news documentary and news coverage. Many of the titles focus on key issues of the past year, notably COVID-19, the U.S. Capitol invasion and climate change. News provider ITN Prods., for example, has both a documentary and a news report in competition for its lauded coverage of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

New for 2021 is an expanded business program for industry executives at Monte-Carlo, with panel discussions and keynote conversations both in person and virtually.

Puons says it will be a different kind of event compared with many industry conferences, with 90-100 attendees meeting in a “relaxed” and “comfortable” environment.

The idea, he says, is to provide the producers, directors, writers and executives who attend the festival with their work a place to do business and to network.

Meanwhile, one of France’s most popular actors, Tchéky Karyo — who is about to reprise the title role in a new series of “Baptiste” — is being awarded the festival’s Crystal Nymph.