Five takeaways from the Berlinale on the future of scripted drama

Det Største (The Change)

The Berlinale wrapped up its 72nd edition this weekend, the first physical iteration of the German festival since 2019. Nick Edwards lays out his top five takeaways from the event for TBI – and it’s clear a lot has changed over the years that followed.

Since the Berlinale last opened its doors to the public in 2019, the tectonic plates of the scripted dramatic landscape have shifted dramatically.

Netflix shares boomed (following a massive surge in subs) then fell (out of the pandemic); more and more streaming platforms have entered the market (despite growing consumer fatigue with multiple subscriptions); and as a result, investments in regional content have also exploded. A sense of the industry tentatively trying to figure out what will happen next is evident everywhere.

Juliana Lima Dehne (c Doro Zinn)

Public appetite, post-pandemic

“After what we have collectively been through for the past two years, there is in general a global need for uplifting escape. And then also mysteries, thrillers, puzzle-oriented series that force the audience to piece together the puzzle as the show unfolds are also in vogue,” says Juliana Lima Dehne, editor at 1899Netflix’s next series from the creators of 2017’s German hit, Dark.

The dramas presented at the Berlinale all seemed to echo this sense of experimentation and it was difficult to pick out a shared dominant tone, style or theme. For example, Suspicion (Czech Television/Arte), is an intense character study of a nurse accused of euthanasia, the first Czech series presented at the festival. Meanwhile, Daniel Burman Yosi, the regrettable spy (Amazon Prime Video), is a double agent adventure set within the Argentine Jewish community.

Nordic Noir vs. ‘New Nordic Drama’

“In Scandinavia, there is now a clear demand not only to continue writing the brilliant Scandi-noir for which the region is world famous, but also for what is called ‘New Nordic Drama’ – contemporary, young adult, historical, comedy, relationship drama – you name it, it’s happening now,” says Donna Sharpe, a British writer based in Berlin who works primarily for the Scandinavian and DACH (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) regions.

Trom (Viaplay), which she co-wrote with creator Torfinnur Jakupsson, is a refreshing “Faroese” version of Nordic Noir released as part of the “market” screenings.

Donna Sharpe

In black sands (Icelandic Channel 2), a young local cop (played by Aldís Amah Hamilton, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is haunted by a particularly toxic relationship that threatens to disrupt her investigation. As Trom it’s a gripping and genuinely new take on the genre. “It feels like we’re pushing huge boundaries in terms of the type of TV series produced in Iceland,” says the producer of black sands, Hörður Runarsson. “We’re becoming more versatile across genres, budget sizes, narratives, etc. and the emerging talent is fantastic.”

‘New Nordic Drama’, on the other hand, delivered in the form of The passage (TV2) from showrunner Lone Scherfig, the Oscar-nominated director of An education (2009). Featuring The slaughter Sophie Grabol in this maternity show, The passage has the feel of iconic medical dramas, such as Emergencies. His subject – birth – has an instant striking universality. “Young couples having babies, living completely different lives but still sharing the same experience, it’s very exciting for all of us,” Scherfig says. The passage seems well executed and original enough to be an international hit on a par with the first wave of Danish series, like The slaughter and The bridgewere formerly.

Good times for young blood

As more and more streaming platforms invest in regional European content, Germany – especially Berlin – is proving to be a dynamic hub for creators. So much so that recent graduates from the city’s film schools (and other programs that teach series scriptwriting) who were desperate to get their first gig booked 12 months in advance.

“It used to be that you always needed a non-writer producer to sell your show – that’s no longer the case”

Juliana Lima Dehne

bad weather for old people

However, the reverse is true for non-writer producers, once the integral point of contact between outlets and writers. “There’s definitely a shift happening where established writers or writer producers are approached directly by streamers or networks,” says Lima Dehne. “It used to be that you always needed a non-writer producer to sell your show, but that’s no longer the case.” Sharp, who is currently developing a female-led historical drama with teenage heroines for HBO Max and Warner Media Germany, has noticed the same trend. “Writers, creators and showrunners are now receiving serious recognition and direct creative and business relationships with streamers and broadcasters, which has been a clear shift in recent years in European drama,” she says.

New beginnings, same challenges

The long-term environmental sustainability of the industry as well as the portrayal of different voices on and off camera are always of huge concern. “I grew up as a Brazilian-American in the United States at a time when Latinos literally only played gang member or maid. I have never seen myself represented on TV. Fortunately, that changed when I became an adult, and the possibilities now seem endless,” observes Dehne, who is currently working on an Amazon series based on a German bestseller.

However, this progress is nuanced. “I have to admit though that the same feeling I had when I was a kid watching TV in the US, is the feeling I have now in Germany. Initiatives are being implemented and streamers have contributed to creating this massive awareness that Germany is lagging behind when it comes to BIPOC voices in front of and behind the cameras (although of course the various affected communities have been saying this for decades) – but there’s still a lot of work to be done. But I am very optimistic about the future and I see positive changes happening all around.

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