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Lille Grand Palais, where Series Mania hosts screenings Series Mania

Festival In Focus: How Series Mania Has Grown Into A Key Event In The Global TV Calendar

When Laurence Herszberg first launched Series Mania back in 2010 in Paris, the former Forum des Images director was keen to apply her deep knowledge of film and the film festival model to the television sector. At the time, says the French exec, no one was doing any kind of TV festival “solely dedicated to series.”  

“No one was really talking about TV series,” the festival general director tells Deadline. “So, I decided to do something for the public just to try and see and imagine how it would work in the television sector.” 

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Little did she know how much the industry would shift, with much of the balance (and money) now lying in the scripted television sphere rather than the independent film space. As a result, across the last 13 years Herszberg and her team have been able to nurture and grow Series Mania into one of the most attractive events in the global TV calendar. It’s largely looked at as an event where writers, distributors and producers can liase with each other in a less formal setting than compared to a TV sales market. 

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“We want people from the industry to look at Series Mania as a place where they can understand where the business is going and connect with each other in a meaningful way,” she says. 

The festival moved from Paris to Lille in 2018 to accommodate its growth. Series Mania started off with 250 industry attendees to this year, a record 3,800 expected to attend. This is in addition to the 70,000 members of the public who visit by applying for tickets to screenings. The festival now has a reputation for securing world premieres for series that go on to become international hits such as Israeli program Your Honor, which took the top Grand Jury Prize in 2017, to HBO’s Succession, which premiered at the 2018 edition.  

“For the audience, it’s important to us that they are happy with the characters, stories and talents they see on the screen,” says Herszberg, who stresses they only play the first two episodes of any series to an audience. “If they are hooked by the characters, then we know we have programmed it right.” 

To boot, programs that are selected for the festival’s main competition section often benefit from the extra exposure when being sold on the international TV market, she says.  

This year the festival, which takes place from March 17-24, is screening 54 unreleased series, with 32 world premieres and 10 international premieres. It will open with the world premiere of Cédric Klapisch’s French series Greek Salad, from Prime Video, an Athens-set sequel to Klapisch’s popular features L’Auberge EspagnoleRussian Dolls and Chinese Dolls

The closing series is Netflix’s world premiere of Anna Winger’s Transatlantic, which is based on a true story and follows an international group who helped thousands of refugees in France escape Nazi Germany in the 1940s. It stars Gillian Jacobs, Corey Stoll, Gregory Montel and Lucas Englander. 

Series Mania’s Laurence Herszberg

In addition, there will be masterclasses with Succession star Brian Cox, Klapisch, French actors Cécile de France, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu and Westworld producer Lisa Joy, who is also heading up the International Competition jury. French actress Emmanuelle Béart, Broadchurch screenwriter Chris Chibnall, singer-songwriter-actor Lou Doillon, Indian director Anurag Kashyap and Israeli actor Yehuda Levi, who won last year’s Best Actor award at Series Mania for Fire Dance, all join Joy to make up the International jury. Prizes go to Best Series, Best Script, Best Actor and Best Actress. Israeli talent Hervé Le Tellier heads up this year’s Panorama jury while the French Competition jury is comprised of a group of international journalists. 

Reflecting on this year’s selections, Herszberg is proud of the “eclectic line-up” on offer at this year’s edition, which hones in on series originating from territories outside of the Anglo-Saxon world and European countries. The 54 series selected come from 24 different nationalities, including six new territories: Greece, Pakistan, Benin, Uruguay, Iran and Senegal. 

The International Competition section sees the first Greek and Iranian entries: Vasilis Kekatos’ coming-of-age series Milky Way will have its world premiere while Iranian entry The Actor will have its international premiere. Additionally, Prime Video’s Toni Collette fantasy series The Power from Chernobyl producer Jane Featherstone, will world premiere in the strand. Further series in the International Competition include: Arte’s Haven of Grace from France; Drops of God from Apple TV+, France Télévisions and Hulu Japan; Paramount+’s Fleeting Lies from Spain; Reshet 13’s Red Skies from Israel; and Viaplay’s The Fortress from Norway.

For Herszberg, she’s curious to see how these will play out amongst the audience and the international jury. “The planets are really moving in terms of how stories are being told,” she says.

While Herszberg is happy with the growth Series Mania has taken in just 13 years, she’s keen to keep the industry component of it – it’s Forum, which includes the Lille Dialogues and Co-Pro Pitching sections, which run during the festival – quite selective. “That part of Series Mania is getting bigger and bigger, but I want to stop at 3,800 professionals this year.”

Part of the appeal with the festival side of Series Mania and its continued growth, she thinks lies in the ability TV formats have in being able to grow its characters and stories much deeper than a 100-minute film can.

“With cinema, you’re focusing on the characters and the inner problems but if I have to summarize with series, you have more time across episodes to develop these characters so there is always another layer, which can be a social layer, a political layer, something that reflects all the questions in the world or issues about gender equality. This intersection between the character and these layers is what makes series so addictive to people.” 

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