Totally Serialized: TV Festival Day Review

A hop, skip, and a jump away from my own dwelling is the Institut Francais Du Royaume Uni – an Art Deco theatre dedicated to French arts and culture.

In the heart of South Kensington the building sits beside some of the most prestigious museums and institutes, including most notably the world famous Natural History Museum. It’s a truly magnificent and abstract building that is so rebelliously out of place between the two Victorian white buildings it grabs your attention, screaming at you to notice it. Housing a second floor rustic library (that is not dissimilar compared to an old prestigious universities’), I can easily see myself lost in Institut Francais‘ charm, reading the days away alongside those towering wooden bookcases housing hundreds of years of french literature. Inside the building is a Café, a cinema (Ciné Lumière), and classrooms that teaches a range of french lessons to those looking to master the language (and who can think of a better place?). It really is an ode to all things French – un chef-d’œuvre.

I arrived just after 3PM, just in time to listen to the second lecture featuring:

  • Stefan Boran – Head of International Co-Productions / Nice Entertainment Group
  • Olivier Bibas – Co-CEO / Altantique Productions
  • Dominique Jubin – Director of French Drama and Co-Productions / CANAL+
  • Christian Wikander – Head of Drama – SVT

Chaired by Neil Midgley – Media Commentator at – the lecture was all about ‘Midnight Sun’, the first french & Swedish TV drama collaboration. The series has not yet premiered in any country, however we were kindly given access to watch the first 4 minute trailer in the company of those who helped the series come to fruition.

Kahina Zadi (Leïla Bekhti), a french officer, is sent to kiruna, a small mining community in remote nothern Sweden, to investigate the brutal murder of a French citizen. With the help of Anders (Gustaf Hammarsten) a Swedish DA and a member of the Sami, an ancient, mysterious indigenous tribe of Scandinavia, they are faced with new killings.

“Another cop drama with a partner from a different country?” said Neil. It’s a valid statement, and one that most of us in the audience did wonder. Dominique replied saying that she agreed, and wouldn’t of taken on the project if she believed that the programme was not a quality piece of drama. In fact she even admitted she isn’t interested in any more similar detective dramas – a genre I think we are all starting to find repetitive.

Another aspect that they wanted to address was the Sami tribe and the magical element in the series. The Sami Tribe are a group hailing from the northern parts of Scandinavia, forming around Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and even in parts of Russia. The language of the Sami is varied and they have a largely non-transferable dialect between their different tribes making it very hard to communicate in their native tongue. Having tribes spread out across several different countries means that their sense of identity is compromised. A lack of representation and cultural acceptance finds them pushed further and further away from normal society.

Paganism is a religion that some of the Sami tribe practice and it’s split into three core beliefs: animism, shamanism, and polytheism. The Sami believe that all living objects have a soul and need to be nurtured and protected. Rituals are initiated by Medicine Men who reportedly travel in and out of the spiritual world, a ritual that plays a huge role in Midnight Sun.

From the trailer, Midnight Sun looks incredible. The cinematography is stunning (especially the tracking shots across the Swedish mountains), the location is spectacular, and the story is intriguing to say the least. ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ is a common saying for international co-productions – perhaps a statement we will hear less and less over the next few years.

The third lecture was in the form of a question: Why Is Foreign Drama More in Demand?

  • Toby Etheridge – Head Of Programming / Fox International Channels UK
  • Walter Luzzolino – Chief Creative Office / Global Series Network (GSN)
  • Frédérique Rouault – VP International Sales / TF1 International
  • Charles Touboul – Content Development Manager / AB International

Chaired by Ed Waller – C21 Media – the discussion on why foreign drama has been more in demand was really a multiple-choice question. Charles said that his impression is that the rise of piracy on TV has given life to foreign language dramas. Frédérique has a similar answer, and continues to see a rise in the demand for French drama. The shows that were unavailable to viewers are now easily acquired at the click of a button. Toby, as a Brit, had to side with the BBC, stating the risk that was involved when BBC4 began to show foreign language drama. I think this is perhaps the most preferable answer. Britain has started to want more and more drama from around the world which has seen BBC4 and Sky Arts acquire the best Swedish, Danish, Belgian, and German drama shows for our pleasure. Walter, the face of Channel 4’s new platform ‘Walter Presents’ also believes that this is the best answer. His channel, whilst only 3 weeks old, is based on the principle of ‘if we build it they will come’ – bringing box sets of European drama to all of Britain. His ethos is based upon loving drama no matter what the language, and it’s this attitude that spurs the viewer to take the chance and plunge into unfamiliar territory.

The last part of my day was watching the premiere screening of the first episode of Baron Noir (Black Baron).

At the height of an election campaign, Francis Laugier (Niels Arestrup) is up against tough-competition from the opposition. To help his campaign, Deputy Mayor Philippe Rickwaert (Kad Merad) uses dirty hand tactics, paying money to newly housed citizens to vote for Francis in the election. When the police find out, a fellow officer gives Philippe until the morning to find the money before the offices are raided. Finding a colleague to take the rap, Philippe manages to save the campaign just in time. But with the death of said colleague Philippe realises that his time to ascend to to President of France is now.

Totally Serialized was a brilliant day, and to hear from industry experts about the health of the international market and why new dramas are emerging at an accelerated rate was fascinating. The French Institut was an amazing venue that solidified the relationship the French and British media and I can’t wait for next year when I can try to sneak my way into the library.

Now to wait for all of these releases to find their way onto my screen!

Photographs: © Vianney Le Caer / Institut Français du Royaume-Uni

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