Julia Fidel • Head, Berlinale Series
“We are looking beyond the safe bets”
- The head of the Berlinale Series strand talks about this year’s selection, general trends, and both European and non-European series production
We sat down with the head of Berlinale Series, Julia Fidel, to talk about the state of episodic storytelling in the wake of the pandemic and exactly what Berlinale Series will showcase in its 2023 selection, unspooling from 16-26 February. Fidel became the head of Berlinale Series in 2019 after having worked in various different capacities at the largest German film gathering since 2006. She discusses this year’s selection, general trends and European (as well as non-European) series production.
Cineuropa: What is the state of episodic production now, after the pandemic?
Julia Fidel: Some of the high-profile, big productions have been finished, and they are coming to our programme. They are international co-productions that have been years in the making and even more years in development. One of them is The Swarm [see the news], based on the eponymous bestseller by Frank Schätzing, and the other one is Spy/Master, an HBO Europe show shot in Romania and Hungary. It’s an Eastern European co-production with a lot of international talent – it’s a fantastic show. You can see how much money and work went into these series. All of the streamers sent us really strong productions, but you can tell they have not produced as many as in previous years. What’s great is that we received shows from countries we did not previously have in the line-up.
We have a show from Amazon India, Dahaad (Roar), our first Indian series in the line-up. It’s a fantastic take on the police investigative genre, with a female lead. She is not only trying to solve a case, but she also fights misogyny, and anti-Muslim sentiments and movements in the country. It is a very emancipated Indian show that discusses the problems the country might have.
Now we have the first European Disney+ Original: the Italian show Good Mothers, with some really great directing and producing talent. We also have a Viaplay show for the first time, Arkitekten. It has a futuristic topic, which is a very strong trend in terms of current themes – visions and nightmares of the future are pretty prominent now. The team made the show with a very limited budget, but with some great ideas.
Based on what you have seen, what would you say are the current trends?
The [latter] Norwegian show exemplifies a lot of trends: a great idea, not a huge budget, a futuristic setting, and it’s a miniseries. And you can tell, based on all of the conferences we have attended and the conversations we have had with producers, commissioners and streamers, that the level of production is not going to be as high as it was before, and the budgets are being set up with a little more care. And if you have a strong IP and really big acting names, that’s going to help a lot, but producers are going to play it safe. We are looking beyond the safe bets, however.
What is the position of episodic and TV production within the film-festival ecosystem?
Ever since we started with Berlinale Series, there have been many other festivals established. I believe that what has been there for films for such a long time has developed for episodic and TV production at double the speed. And it feels like people have just been waiting to set up similar strategies for series. To me, a series programme is a place for people to come together to look at a certain selection and to discuss that selection. We need to take series as seriously as films – and this is what we are doing at the Berlinale.
What are the major changes at Berlinale Series 2023?
The major change is that we are returning to the Zoo Palast. We are going to have a structure spread over three days, where we will screen seven shows, and it will all be very concentrated. When you come as a professional, you can attend panels in the morning. And in the afternoon and evening, you can discover our selection of shows. Berlinale Series is a very boutique event.
Why did you decide to introduce the Berlinale Series Award?
This was something that we had wanted to do for quite a while, and which was delayed a little bit because of the pandemic. I think it is a logical addition to our programme: the ceremony also rounds things off in a nice way. We can give one of the selected shows another moment to shine, and I believe that is a very valuable thing for the shows. We also wanted to awaken a competitive spirit.
What is the relationship between the Series Market and the Series showcase?
The Berlinale Series Market [see the news] and the Berlinale Series programme are intertwined. We curate the Series Market Selects and the participants in the German showcase Up Next: Germany, and the market and conference team looks closely at our selection and works on bringing people, trends and topics from the programme into the conference part.
We see 200 shows each October and November. So we have a deep insight into the trends, which we then share with our market colleagues. Series Market Selects stems from our programme, and this is a chance for us to broaden the country focus, but also to highlight some of the trends we saw during the selection process.
The line-up features global series, but last year, for example, you had the miniseries Suspicion [+see also:
interview: Štěpán Hulík
series profile] from Czech Television, a public broadcaster. What is the role of public broadcasters in the current industry of episodic storytelling?
It is always changing. The streamers have been catalysts for certain changes, and with the public broadcasters, you can tell that they are having a strong reaction. They have started to redefine their roles. When we are talking about the German market, public broadcasters have analysed who their audience is, and whom they want to target. And they have created a lot of content for these specific audiences, such as young adults. They have also adapted to the changing ways of viewing a show.
You can also see pubcasters getting on board, on a more international and pan-European level, to create shows that have bigger budgets and higher profiles. And I think the broadcasters have been very clever with that. And thanks to that reliability that comes with having public broadcasters involved, they have repositioned themselves. The streamers are now starting to align with pubcasters: I see a lot of things indicating that streamers are imitating their vision.
You mentioned that Scandinavian production is still strong, but what other European countries have the most interesting output?
One non-European country with a strong output this year was India. When it comes to Europe, Scandinavia is really great at creating. They have fantastic writers and a lot of creative freedom. This is something that was established over the years. It is not a trend; they are a powerhouse of really good writing and creating.
Regarding other countries, I am always looking at Belgium. We have a show at the Series Market from Belgium this year, 1985. We are always looking into the Balkan regions as well because we expect a lot of great shows to come from there, as there is a really good infrastructure and very skilled production companies as well. From my past programming experience, I can say that Austria is always good for black comedy and witty shows.
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