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Berlinale Series Market Celebrates 10 Years of Originality, Drama and Humor for the Small Screen

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As the Berlinale Series Market celebrates its 10th anniversary, series continue to stand “side by side” with films at the German fest, observes EFM director Dennis Ruh.

“BSM continues to be a beacon for all aspects of serialized content, even in years where space feels tighter with less films and series, giving selected titles more exposure,” he says, mentioning a “vibrant influx” of international professionals eager to showcase their shows.

Although the sidebar for series has been discontinued, they are present in Berlinale Special and Panorama sections. Apart from Netflix’s “Supersex” and “Dostoevskij” by Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, Berlinale Series Market Selects will spotlight 15 new shows.

“We prioritize narratives that captivate with their originality, championing diversity in representation, genre and geography. The goal is to amplify these stories, ensuring they receive the global attention they deserve,” explains Ruh, pointing out another important trend: comedy. “This might be a reaction to the unsettling zeitgeist the world is facing and an increasing need to use comedy as a channel for processing complex emotions.”

Laughs come courtesy of “Show Yourself” by Álvaro Carmona and Beta-backed “Soviet Jeans,” set in 1970s Riga, where a snitch-turned-political rebel starts production of counterfeit jeans out of a mental asylum.

“We decided to go for a completely different tone when depicting this period, which so often is shown in this harsh, gloomy way. People used to joke during communism too: humor was their main survival mechanism,” showrunner Teodora Markova says.

With many festivals still figuring out how to successfully integrate series into their programs, Ruh underlines the importance of “unique big screen experience.”

“This approach provides a significant promotional boost, especially for non-English speaking series, helping them gain recognition and distribution across different territories,” he says.

Along with the much-anticipated “The Good Wife” spinoff “Elsbeth” from Robert and Michelle King — with Carrie Preston reprising her Emmy-winning role as Elsbeth Tascioni — two German-language productions have been chosen: “Disko 76” and “Kafka.”

“An established festival such as Berlinale, with the EFM market, is an excellent opportunity to introduce high-quality products. In particular, to a broad specialist audience,” says Armin Luttenberger, head of content sales international at ORF-Enterprise, which is behind “Kafka.” Noting that a “good mix” of topics depicting society’s diversity is key to a show’s success.

“From a sales perspective, a universal approach to issues that interest our audience in the domestic market, but also viewers in other territories around the world, is certainly relevant,” he observes. “I am convinced that originality is a major advantage over generic content. The financing of unique content poses challenges, however, and what the Nordics have already mastered will become increasingly important also for other markets. The power of cooperation can ensure that common cultural spaces are represented.”

Robert Franke, VP of drama at ZDF Studios, which is representing paranormal procedural “We’re on It Comrades,” agrees: “In this show, two investigators from the Institute for Paranormal Phenomena try to solve mysterious cases, whether it’s alien abduction or an attack by the creepy goat monster. We are seeing a trend [in moving] away from classic mainstream series and towards productions that are a little more unexpected and unusual.”

Nurturing creative diversity is crucial, he states, especially when facing a “market crunch of unknown duration and extent.”

“This diversity thrives when both small independents and larger, financially robust players find equilibrium, ensuring a varied storytelling ecosystem,” underlines Franke. “The challenge ahead is maintaining this balance amidst short-term market volatilities, ensuring the industry’s ability to adapt swiftly to ongoing changes.”

New ways of collaborating and financing content are always “good subjects for discussion,” notices Rodrigo Herrera Ibarguengoytia, international VP, scripted acquisitions and co-productions at Red Arrow Studios. The company is overseeing “While the Men Are Away” and action-packed drama “Soon Comes Night,” set against the backdrop of post-apartheid South Africa.

“Despite being set against the dark backdrop of war, ‘Men’ is an irreverent and witty revisionist period dramedy that puts its focus on the emotional journey of the characters, and always with humor,” he notes. “These two shows are very different in subject matter, but both offer the sort of broad appeal that makes them attractive to audiences internationally.”

Says Ruh, “As the lines between film and series continue to blur, it’s imperative for festivals like Berlinale to evolve, ensuring series maintain a prominent place within both our market and festival landscapes.

“Embracing this change is crucial for fostering a rich, diverse cinematic culture that celebrates storytelling in all its forms. I am confident the festival and the market will continue to give series a prominent role,” he adds.

“We believe that real film lovers love TV series and real TV series lovers love film. This co-existence at festivals makes perfect sense,” says Mai Brostrøm, co-creator of “Oxen” alongside Peter Thorsboe, who adds: “Between film and TV, there’s both jealousy and inspiration. Sometimes cinema takes the lead, sometimes it’s the show’s turn. Just like in love in real life.”

Berlinale Series Market — a joint initiative of the European Film Market, the Berlinale Co-Production Market, and Berlinale Talents — will take place Feb. 19-21.