This week over 260 TV drama professionals gathered in Paris for the sixth Séries Mania festival. A record number of Nordic TV series (6) were invited and Nordic creators/directors Erik Skjoldbjærg (Occupied), JP Siili (Tellus), Henrik Björn (Jordskott) mingled with top names such as Lee Daniels (Empire) and Hagai Levi (The Affair). We spoke to the festival’s co-organiser Laurence Herszberg.
The Nordic region has one of the largest slates of TV dramas at this year’s Séries Mania. Why is that?
Laurence Herszberg: We’ve been welcoming Scandi TV dramas since 2012 with Borgen, The Bridge and Lilyhammer. This year we selected six Nordic TV dramas – Follow the Money from Denmark, Occupied from Norway, Blue Eyes and Jordskott from Sweden and our very first Icelandic choice The Cliff-Depth of Darkness. We could have picked several other Nordic shows as many were of the highest quality. In fact, Scandinavia has now reached a quality level comparable to the UK.
What makes Nordic TV drama so unique?
LH: Nordic noir remains very strong, but the genre is constantly renewed, such as Jordskott that brings a different dimension. Another fascinating trend is ecology and economic issues addressed from different angles. For instance the Finnish series Tellus [YLE] is exceptional in its use of a double layered narrative. It deals with saving the planet, while asking if the end justifies the means. The Danish series Follow the Money also shows the dark side of ecology, i.e. corruption and exploitation. A third series of political anticipation is the Norwegian show Occupied co-produced by Arte. Again, there are two very interesting levels of narration. One is the political level with Russia taking control over Norway and Europe trying not to be cut out of Norwegian oil. The second level is that of a country joining the resistance. The Swedish show Blue Eyes is another great example of a multi-layered plot. The political thriller has an interesting edge, as the audience is enticed to feel empathy towards the female character candidate to the far right movement, despite her political views.
Finally, Scandinavians were among the very first to master the art of staying local to become universal.
Could you outline the programme of your third Forum of Co-productions?
LH: This year 170 projects were submitted at the Forum, more than the double compared to last year (81). We could only select 12 new projects, as our mandate is to stay small to facilitate networking between professionals. Next to high profile series such as Crater Lake produced by Atlantique Productions in France and In the Wolf’s Mouth written by Tony Grisoni for Potboiler Productions in the UK, we’ve selected two Scandi projects out of 20 Scandi submissions. Those are 1001, a Swedish thriller that renews the genre, by Real Humans creator Lars Lundström, produced by Matador, and DNA, a new Scandi noir co-written by Torleif Hoppe (The Killing), produced by Eyeworks Scandi Fiction. Scandi projects are always extremely popular, and we’re very proud that Jordskott was our very first co-production baby at the Forum.
What are the latest trends in co-production and storytelling?
LH: We’ve noticed that Europeans tend to co-produce and broadcast each other’s programmes more and more, and again in this area, the Nordic countries have played a pioneering role. Today new US players such as Netflix, Amazon, Playstation are revolutionising viewing habits, playing entire seasons in one go and stimulating binge-watching. As they are hungry for new quality content, they are turning to Europe. Our goal at Series Mania is to continue to develop creativity and production in Europe, because if we want to compete with the US, we simply cannot stay on our own and are condemned to co-produce.
In terms of storytelling, many European series tackle the ambiguities of our democracies by visiting the spy genre. Comedies are also increasingly popular and web series such as Syria’s Umm Abdo, shot in the middle of the current conflict, are remarkable, preparing the ground for a whole new genre.
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Written by Annika Pham