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Series Mania Forum Unveils Co-Pro Projects, Expands to Japan With ‘A True Novel’ and Manga-Inspired ‘Issak’


“A True Novel,” directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, manga-inspired “Issak,” written by Itaru Mizuno (“Double Booking”) and “4 Blocks” Richard Kropf, look like potential highlights at this year’s Co-Pro Pitching Sessions, the centerpiece at Series Mania’s Forum, as its projects expand ever more their geographic compass, here welcoming their first titles co-produced by Japan.  

They are joined by titles from around the world such as Argentinean Daniel Burman’s “Witness 36,” which won the Series Mania Award at the Berlinale Series Market on Tuesday, and a slice of Vatican noir and “Antilia,” which reunites the team of “De Grâce.”

The Forum runs March 19-21 during Series Mania, Europe’s biggest dedicated TV festival, which will unspool this year over March 15-22 in Lille, Northern France.  

News of the Co-Pro lineup comes as the Forum is tracking for yet another all-time record attendance. After last year’s historical high of 3,800 delegates, “I’m almost sure we’ll pass 4,000 delegates, Francesco Capurro, director of the Series Mania Forum, told Variety. To welcome a larger influx, Series Mania has created an extra 3,000 sq. meters of exhibition space. 

Reasons cut several ways. Laurence Herszberg, Series Mania general director and artistic director Frédéric Lavigne and Capurro have been with Series Mania from its beginnings, which establishes “a kind of trust and loyalty to the Series Mania brand and team,” said Capurro.  

Higher-end, more ambitious drama series production “is ever and ever more global,” he added, citing strong delegations this year from Brazil, South Africa, Korea and Taiwan. 

Series Mania’s heart is production and co-production, discussed at its panels, nurtured at its school and furthered at its Co-Pro Pitching Sessions. “There is an ever greater need for co-production, or in a broader sense, co-financing of IP adaptations,” Capurro said.

In a still hugely crowded market, the industry needs ever more quality filters such as festivals, allowing titles which do not come with huge marketing to generate heat. These days, selection for not only the main International Competition but International Panorama is something to be crowed about. 

An eight-part adaptation of Mizumura Minae’s 2003 Yomiuri Prize-winning novel inspired by Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights,”“True Novel” is produced by Shochiku and Upgrade Productions, set up in 2021 by ex-Netflix exec Matt Brodlie and former Sierra/Affinity president Jonathan Kier. 

In a second Japanese title, a first for Series Mania, “Issak” is produced by ZDF Studios and Nippon TV.

Italy’s Fabula, behind three-season Netflix hit “Baby,” produces “Vatican.” “Witness 36” is backed by Oficina Burman, part of The Mediapro Studio.

Such major propositions are balanced by a clutch of indie projects from smaller projects. 

Crime and thrillers predominated among submissions but “those genres can be explored in multiple ways,” said Capurro. 

Also, “there’s a building trend to set series in the relatively recent past which help explain the present, he added. “You can see fears and issues relevant today, such as female characters rebelling against patriarchy, or ecological concerns.” Even newer, manga inspired narratives are now feeding into live action scripted in Europe, as with “Issak,” as animation before it. 

This year, the 15 projects were selected from 413 applications from 57 countries, including four new territories: Mexico, Cameroon, Panama, and Chile.

“Since its inception in 2013, the goal of the Forum’s Co-Pro Pitching Sessions has been to help the high-end European and international drama projects find potential financial partners. Given the illustrious list of titles which have received their start at the Forum, we know for a fact that this works,” says Herszberg. 

“This year we have seen a significant increase in projects coming from Latin America, especially from Brazil and Mexico and have noted the emergence of Asia as a newcomer highlighted by the presence of two Japanese companies in this year’s selection.”

“Also, this year we received a number of stories inspired by true events and many projects based on strong IPs. While we saw a decline in dystopian themes in favor of more realistic projects and found that the submissions favored more traditional thrillers with an increasing number of dramedies. We look forward to unveiling the winner of the Best Project Award with €50,000 [$54,000] on March 19 in Lille,” she adds.

A brief breakdown of titles: 

Antilia,” (6 x 52,’ France)

Produced by Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin et Vincent Mouluquet for Ego Productions

Written by Maxime Crupaux & Baptiste Fillon

Directed by Vincent Maël Cardona

From the same team as “De Grâce” – Fleurantin, Mouluquet at Mediawan-owned Ego and Cardona – a best actress winner at 2023 Series Mania which hit high ratings on Arte several weeks back. Hell and Paradise are on the same island, the logline runs.

A crime thriller set on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, half-French, half-Dutch.  

“The Art of Magdalene,” (6 x 45′ – Poland, Ireland)

Genre: Drama

Produced by Wiktor Piatkowski for Bahama Films and Jonathan Farrelly for PIO Media

Written by Wiktor Piatkowski

Based on a real story, Magda, a hardworking Polish immigrant in Ireland, passes herself off as an art dealer, aristocrat and member of the world’s elite. An entertaining plot full of scams, art, crazy parties, dangerous criminals and money laundering and a through line: the relationship between money, success, happiness and self-worth can be more complex than we usually think,” says creator  Piatkowski. 

The Art of Magdalene

“Eurovision Murder Mystery,” (6 x 52’, France, Germany)

Genre: Murder mystery

Produced by Emmanuelle Guilbart and Agathe de Lorme for APC Stories and Henning Kamm and Johann Buchholz for Friday Film

Written by Fabienne Hurst & Bertrand Soulier

“When you have 72 hours to solve a murder, save Eurovision and the fate of Europe,” the logline runs. Set in Montreux, Switzerland, the body of German singer Lea Lippmann is found drowned in Lake Geneva. Manuela, a superb but troubled cop is dispatched by Germany to investigate, as the case triggers an unprecedented political and artistic crisis. “At Eurovision, the significant becomes ridiculous, and the ridiculous becomes significant. That’s why it is the ideal arena to take this snapshot of our society,” says creator Soulier (“Moa”). A half tongue-in-cheek murder mystery.

“Food, Love, Faith,”  (8 x 50,’ Israel)

Genre: Drama

Produced by Efrat Shmaya Dror for United Studios IL 

Written by Yossi Madmoni

An ultra-orthodox Jewish mother smuggles her gay son from Jerusalem to London, to save him from being forced into an arranged marriage. Fulfilling his passion for cooking, working at a restaurant, he experiences freedom of choice and falls for a Muslim Syrian refugee while his mother pays a terrible price.

Created by Dror, a producer on the “Zehu Ze!” Revival, and  Yossi Madmoni (“East Side”). “The series is the outcome of its two creators’ personal journeys – one is a mother who waited 16 years for her son to come out of the closet; the other is a man born in an Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem,” they say.

Food, Love, Faith

“Issak,” (6 x 45′ – Japan, Germany)

Genre: Historical Drama

Produced by Itaru Mizuno from Nippon TV and Lasse Scharpen from Studio Zentral

Written by Itaru Mizuno and Richard Kropf

Based on the manga “Issak” by Shinji Makari and Double-S, published by Kodansha, and co-produced by ZDF Studios, Studio Zentral and Nippon TV. 1620: In the chaos of Europe’s Thirty Years’ War, 11-year-old orphan Zetta finds companionship in a mysterious Japanese samurai Issak, who fights on the side of the Protestants, carrying a dark secret with him. Itaru Mizuno broke out with “Double Booking” and “Connected,” and Kropf, a major writer on “4 Blocks,” the pioneering premium series from Germany.   

“Judgement Of Solomon,” (6 x 45,’ Bulgaria)

Genre: Mystery/Drama

Produced by Katya Trichkova for Contrast Films and Mirrormind

Written by Teodora Markova and Nevena Kertovaç

A 6-year-old Bulgarian girl starts recalling moments from her past life, which leads her family to cross paths with a Swedish couple, who have lost their daughter.

“Kiss My Feet,” (6 x 50,’ Finland, Netherlands)

Genre: Drama

Produced by Aleksi Bardy for Helsinki-Filmi Oy and Fleur Winters for Big Blue, Netherlands.

Written by Daan Gielis & Mark Van De Grift

Created by Gielis and Van De Grift, loosely based on their own experiences, with successful marketer Max finding himself in a spiritual community in Finland. Soon, Max and his girlfriend Daphne’s view on family, and trust, will drastically change. “Some people are very invested in spiritual communities, others prefer to stay away. What if that division happens within one couple?,” asks Big Blue’s Fleur Winters.

“The Left Hand of Venus,” (6 x 45′ – Greece)

Genre: Historical Comedy

Produced by Ioannis Kostas, development producer Dimitra Barla, for Arcadia Media

Written by Nikos Panayotopoulos, based on the novel by Takis Theodoropoulos

1820. Out of favor French naval officer Olivier Voutier finds the love of his life on the face of the French consul’s wife of Milos island, his only hope to conquer her is to steal the statue of Venus that has just been discovered on the island. But others, from locals to Greek revolutionaries and the Turkish Aga have designs on the statue. “A historical comedy with a modern twist that promises beauty, passion and adventure,” says Barla.

“Nanga Parbat,” (6 x 52,’ France)

Genre : Drame, Aventure

Produced by Amaury Ovise for Kazak Productions

Written by Caryl Férey

French climber Elisabeth Revol’s story of survival and tragedy on Pakistan’s “Killer Mountain” and the daring rescue operation, made at nightime, that resounded the world over.

The Odesa Wrestlers,” (6 x 45,’ Norway)

Genre: Drama

Produced by Cathrine Simonsen for Monster 

Written by Joachim Førsund and Thorbjørn Harr

From Fremantle’s Norwegian banner Monster, behind hit TV shows “Exit,” “Furia” and “Pørni, with podcaster Førsund and star Harr (“Vikings”, “22 July”, “Sex”) bowing as co-creators. Set in small town Elverum in rural Norway, the story turns on two young Ukrainian refugees and brothers Andriy and Mago as they join a local wrestling team, the wrestling arena serves “as a mirror to broader global trends of nationalism and segregation,” the co-creators explain.

“Our People,” (6 x 55’, Slovakia)

Genre: True Crime

Produced by Jakub Viktorín and Tomáš Hrubý for nutprodukcia

Written by Miro Šifra

Directed by Tereza Nvotová

A crime miniseries depicting the killing of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, which toppled a government and is “a painful reminder that free speech in Slovakia is still under threat of deadly violence,” says director Nvotová.” “We not only have their family’s consent, but also tens of thousands of pages of case files – a detailed and fascinating glimpse into the interplay between the state and the mafia,” says Šifra. 

Our People
Credit: Tomas Benedikovic

“Thirst,” (6 x 60′ – Canada)

Genre: Thriller, Science fiction

Produced by Julia Ferreira Langlois and Annie Sirois for Trio Orange

Written by Sylvain Neuvel

A sci-fi eco thriller from Trio Orange. Gaëlle, 44, is summoned to the village of Ivujivik when a nearby lake is contaminated with an unknown, deadly substance. As the bodies pile up in the wilds of northern Quebec, the contamination threatens to reach hydroelectric dams.  “I wanted to dive into this apocalyptic setting in order to explore subjects that are dear to me: our relationship to mortality, the human psyche in all of its beauty and ugliness, and the simple fact that nature will outlast us all,” says creator Neuvel.


“A True Novel,” (8 x 60,’ Japan, U.S.)

Investigating the life of reclusive Japanese industrialist Taro Azuma, a famous novelist, begins to uncover a complex puzzle of love and obsession which spans decades. Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Journey to the Shore”), written by Riko Sakaguchi (“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” “Mary and the Witch’s Flower”).“The original book ‘A True Novel’ by Minae Mizumura possesses a unique narrative that not only captivates readers but also provides an opportunity to create a visually stunning and emotionally resonant TV series,” says producer-creator Satoko Ishida.

A True Novel

“Vatican,” (working title, 6 x 50,’ Italy)

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Produced by Nicola De Angelis for Fabula Pictures

Written by Flavio Bernard, Ciro Di Maso and Marcello Olivieri

A father investigates the suspicious death of his only son to discover he was involved in a prostitution ring inside the church used by unscrupulous bishops to control the Vatican policy. Created by Flavio Bernard and Ciro Di Maso. Italy’s Fabula Pictures, behind international hit “Baby,” produces. 

Credit: Giuseppe Crucillà

“White Ties,” (6 x 45, Germany)

Genre: Drama, Inspired by true events

Produced by Laura Von Portatius for Wüste Film

Written by Oke Stielow and Uwe Flade

Directed by Viviane Andereggen

The true story of teen gangster Werner Gladow, the self-described Al Capone of Berlin, rising amongst its post-war ruins and chaos to head up its underworld. ‘White Ties’ is electrifying, raw, dark and entertaining, just like its main protagonist,” says creators Oke Stielow and Uwe Flade. Helmed by Andereggen whose Netflix hit “Kleo,” a Critics’ Choice Award was acclaimed by Stephen King: “What a breath of fresh air! Suspenseful and also very funny.”

“Witness 36,” (8 x 45’ – Argentina)

Genre: Espionage thriller

Produced by Oficina Burman (The Mediapro Studio)

Written by Natacha Caravia, Juan Matías Carballo, Daniel Burman

Directed by Daniel Burman

Winner of the Series Mania Award at Berlin’s Co-Pro Series, and playing out of competition at the Pitching Sessions, the latest from Burman (“Yosi, the Regretful Spy”), Caravia (“Mary & Mike,” “Yosi”) and Carballo (“The Roar of the Butterflies.” A female writer specializing in creating fictional identities for an international witness protection programme becomes entangled in a romance with a mysterious man whose past resembles one of her creations. “‘Witness 36’ is a visceral, character-driven story that questions the transformative power of storytelling, emphasizing truth’s vulnerability in the digital era while exploring themes such as identity, justice and second chances,” says Burman.  

Annika Pham and Marta Balaga contributed to this article