Berlinale Series Market: the Cutting-Edge of Contemporary TV

Berlinale Series, established in 2015, keeps offering new shows proper cinema treatment. But it’s not just about that “dark room and the level of concentration you hardly get when you sit on a sofa,” explains head of the event Julia Fidel, noting a surge in stories with a “reasonable” budget.

“We want to screen very different episodic narrative styles from any country in the world. There is this expectation of showcasing ‘blockbuster’ series, which we also include, but the real benefit of [having] a series section at a major festival are the discoveries.”

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Such as Market Selects’ Israeli offering “Traitor.” “If the story is outstanding and the characters relatable, the language doesn’t matter,” state showrunners Ron Leshem and Amit Cohen.

“Good shows have to be meaningful,” states Cristina Iliescu, creator- director of Co-Pro Series title “Export Only,” the first foray into series by “Bad Luck Banging” producer Ada Solomon.

“I am trying to become a pioneer in the series coming from our part of the world,” she says, excited to explore bonds between parents, pushed to go work abroad, and their abandoned children.

“Family plays a huge role in many of this year’s projects,” says Martina Bleis, Head of Berlinale Co-Production Market.

But shows set in the future, or alternative worlds, also emerge as a significant new trend.

“We need to talk about the future in order to make the right decisions in the present,” says Kerren Lumer-Klabbers behind “The Architect.”

Fears about ongoing climate change are also tackled, with Berlinale Series opener “The Swarm” showing what happens when nature actually strikes back.

“We were very aware of the increasingly terrifying climate crises. We decided to reimagine the novel as a “monster movie.’ There is something very scary ‘out there’ and the ‘monster’ is actually us,” explains its creator, “Game of Thrones” executive producer Frank Doelger.

Brendan Foley, head writer for Co-Pro’s “Tipping Point,” adds: “A challenge is to provide a sense of credible optimism. In Svalbard [where it’s set] the darkness lasts for months, but eventually the sun returns.”

Crime stories, tackling hot political issues or looking back in time, are also prominent at Berlinale Series, with China’s “Why Try to Change Me Now” or “Spy/Master” already generating interest.

The latter, available on HBO Max in May, offers a glimpse into communist Romania and “silent battles of the Cold War with its unexpected twists and betrayals,” notes co-creator Adina Sădeanu. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made the topic timelier, she sees it more as a “survival story.”

“Having said that, our show is a reminder of how a dictatorship mutilates people’s hearts and minds, and this is definitely something we shall never forget.”

Universal human issues (“survival, betrayal, fear,” says Sădeanu) can help the viewers focus on the story and not just on painstakingly reconstructed details.

“Whether in historical dramas such as ‘Rome’ or ‘John Adams,’ a fantasy such as ‘Game of Thrones,’ we made sure the story was always rooted in the characters,” agrees Doelger.

Especially ones that are complex, with complicated female protagonists fronting the likes of Australia’s “Bad Behaviour,” anticipated Disney+ offering “The Good Mothers,” about the women of the mafia, and India’s “Roar,” as well as “The Architect.”

“In the past, it was harder to convince producers or financiers that your female protagonist can make wrong or cynical decisions. But there is a big shift now,” says Lumer-Klabbers.

“Males tend to be heroes and females, well, some fragile creatures that need to be saved. I think it’s very refreshing, and sexy, to see a strong woman,” notes Cathleen Rouleau, in Berlin with “About Antoine,” inspired by her own story.

While she attempts to “blend situation comedy with absurd bursts,” more humor will come courtesy of Denmark’s “Agent,” created by acclaimed actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas.

“I started writing it a year before ‘Call My Agent!’ When I heard about the show, it annoyed me. Then I was relieved to see they are very far apart,” he states.

“From the beginning, one of our main strengths has been that arthouse producers, directors and creators trust our festival and market,” says Bleis.

Acclaimed Spanish director Isaki Lacuesta’s “The Chauffeur’s Son” will be presented at Co-Pro Series; Cristian Mungiu’s Mobra Films is overseeing “Spy/Master.”

“This high demand has made the Co-Pro Series grow fast. We now have over 400 industry attendees each year, we organize around 250 meetings and keep it focused at this level,” Bleis added.

While Fidel’s aim is to reflect the “boutique” approach of the fest and the market as well, she is not opposed to new initiatives in the future, starting with the Berlinale Series Award, inaugurated this year.

“I have not had a single year that was mostly the same as the year before. We are changing continually,” she says.

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