Canneseries’ Albin Lewi, Benoit Louvet on 2020s Edition, ‘Years and Years,’ Darren Star

John Hopewell

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The climax of this year’s Canneseries came, appropriately enough, at its end, Ep. 1 of Russell T. Davies’ “Years & Years,” its final series, which played at its closing gala,  concluded. There was a brief silence and then a barrage of applause. The audience knew,if comments from spectators made as they walked out of Cannes Palais des Festivals were anything to go by, that they had just caught the world premiere of the first episode of one of the great series of the year: a searing political analysis, delivered through a down-the-years family drama, of one future for Britain.

There were more of what Canneseries artistic director Albin Lewi calls “Magic moments”: Diana Rigg accepting Variety Icon Award with a mixture of self effacement, good humor and trie emotion; the metamorphosis in the space of 15 minutes at the awards ceremony of Spain’s Leticia Dolera from a budding filmmaker, with one feature and now series under her belt, to an auteur of major promise as “Perfect Life,” a Movistar Plus Original, won best series and  best special performance for its female leads, Dolera herself, Celia Freijeiro and Aixa Villagrán.

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France already has one great TV festival, the far more established Seriesmania (which prized another series of the year: Shane Meadows’ “The Virtues”).

Yet, as series of far larger artistic ambition are made around the world, it needs festivals to break through the noise, aid great titles to stand apart from the crowd. As Mipcom wound down, Canneseries’ managing director Benoit Louvet and artistic director Albin Lewi talked Variety through the upcoming 2020 edition:

What can you say about series coming down the pipeline or even now in the 2020 lineup?

Lewi: It’s such a competitive business: The more you take your time choosing, the more [you have slots for] additional shows that are right now being produced right. What I can say is that the quality of shows is not diminishing. From the glimpses and trailers I’ve seen, the pitches I’ve taken, there are a lot of series of the highest quality in the pipeline.

Choosing “Borgen’s” Sidse Babett Knudsen as your first patron was symbolic. Is Darren Star, as the patron of 2020’s Canneseries, also a statement?

Lewi: Babett Knudsen’s story is amazing, starring in a small Danish show which made primetime in France and winning a French Academy Cesar for a film. Regarding Farren Star, many showrunners are just known to series buffs. They’re not movie stars, less famous than film directors. So we’re so happy to have Darren Star who is both known to the general public and respected by the industry for 30 years, from “Beverly Hills, 90210” to Melrose Place” to “Sex and the City” and now “Younger” and “Emily in Paris,” which is shooting in Paris. Everything is about revolution these days, from mergers to release structures and also to talent traveling all over. We have Patrick Dempsey, a Hollywood star, experiencing foreign high-end productions in “Devils,”and Darren Star shooting in Paris.  There are so many interesting projects that big U.S. talent are doing [outside the U.S.].

Canneseries is still very young. For 2020’s 3rd Canneseries, what will stay the same and could be taken as festival DNA?

Louvet: The Excellence Award was a foretaste of what we want for Season 3. Cannes, The Majestic, our colors, our brand. For Season 3, we won’t change many things. The length will be the same: Friday opening ceremony to Wednesday closing ceremony. The number of series in competition the same: 10. We’re aiming for the same number of out-of-competition series: Six. We have the Palais des Festivals, the stairs, the pink carpet.

And changes?

Lewi: The event’s founders – Benoit, Fleur Pellerin and Mayor David Lisnard – had an idea that won’t change. No festival takes its competition as seriously as we do. Getting into the competition is already a huge achievement. So: Very few shows, with just selection itself being prestigious, and shows of very high-quality and from all over the world. That said, we spent six months listening from people who came to Season 1. There’s always room to improve in logistics, small things., reducing the length of the Festival, the calendar, the location is now better.

By logistics, you mean?

Louvet: We have to treat the talent at the level of the Cannes Festival. In terms of logistics, one thing we’re looking to improve is communication with industry professionals at the MipTV market. With a badge, you have access to the screenings, but not enough people knew that was possible. We also set up links for journalists and industry executives who can watch series one hour after the beginning of screenings, but they weren’t used as much as they could have been.

If the broad outline of Canneseries will not change, where does your growth come from?

Lewi: There was a leap in quality between Season 1 and this year’s Season 2. For example, in titles from a broader range of big U.S. players. This year, we had the first full worldwide Netflix Original Series, “How To Sell Drugs Online (Fast),” Amazon Prime Video’s “The Feed,” which will be a huge release, and AMC’s “NOS4A2.” Russell T. Davies’ “Years and Years” is one of the most acclaimed series of the year, will be on many critics 2019 Top 10s, as “Killing Eve,” which played in competition at  Season 1, was in 2018.

The battle for success is a streaming world is a battle for talent. Season 2 mixed established creators – Russell T. Davies, Cathy Verney with “Vernon Subutex” – with emerging voices  and four-or-so talents which were completely off the international radar….

We raise the awareness for creators who are not necessarily well-known outside their own territory, such as Leticia Dolera with “Perfect Life” or Reshef Levi with “Nehama.” We also really try to go beyond our mandate and help connect people and for their series to sell. At Mipcom, for example, we had the news that M6 and TF1-owned Serieclub, a French cult series network, has acquired comedy “Magnus,” which played in competition, while the M6 Group has taken “Perfect Life,” both the original, to air on Téva and format rights, acquired by M6’s production-distribution company SND, with the aim of creating a France primetime remake.

If choosing Darren Star as next year’s patron, was selecting “Dark” co-creator Baran bo Odar as president of the jury also some kind of message about Canneseries?

Lewi: Yes. English-language-U.S. content is more than welcome at Canneseries but we want to show that it is also an international platform. For me, “Dark” is one of the most ambitious shows made in the world. Co-writing with Jantse Friese and then directing every episode is a near inhuman accomplishment for bo Odar. “Dark” also shows that series in any language can be hits. It’s complex, probing and we can’t wait for Season 3.

TV festivals seem one answer to a new paradox. More and more series look likely to be delivered to audiences via OTT and watched on cell phones Yet, such is the ambition of many TV series, as well as their ability to drive the cultural conversation, that they deserve to be seen on big screens. Yet such screenings are still relatively rare…

In a 35-year career, Russell T. Davies had never screened one of his series in a venue like Cannes’ Palais des Festivals auditorium The series is a masterpiece. I hope history doesn’t go the way “Years and Years” shows. but the series will certainly be remembered for years and years. The reaction of the audience was extraordinary. When the first episode ended they went crazy. That was one of the magic moments of this year’s festival.

And your best memories of Season 2?

Louvet: Dame Diana Rigg. She certainly set the bar high for 2020.

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