Television professionals from across Europe as well as TV show enthusiasts and binge watchers from this country converged on the city of Brno last week for the first year of a new Central and Eastern Europe TV and online series festival titled Serial Killer.
Over the course of four days, screenings in the centre of Brno attracted some 2,500 viewers who were able to discuss their impressions afterwards at festival parties, meet TV professionals from around Europe as well as attend specialised panels that were part of the unique event.
The woman behind the brand new Serial Killer festival is Kamila Zlatušková, an experienced television professional and former vice-dean of the Prague FAMU film school. On the last day of the festival, I asked her why she had decided to establish such an event.
“I think it’s necessary to build a platform like that in Central Europe. For several years I used to be a producer for the national broadcaster, I have my own creative group. And I was just missing a place for television series and television broadcasting in general where we could discuss all this with the people, with the audience. I think platforms like this are very necessary. I was asking myself a question: Why do we have so many film festivals and but no event of this kind. So that was one of my motivations.”
Inspired by Berlinale’s Drama Series Days, the TV section at Cannes as well as her own participation in television competitions abroad as a TV producer and director, Ms. Zlatušková says she originally planned to organize just a one-evening event presenting Czech television production. She says she realised, however, that with the ever growing popularity of quality TV, there was a larger niche to fill. The vibrant Moravian city of Brno with its large student population was a natural choice for such an event, according to the festival’s founder and director Kamila Zlatušková.
“The city changed amazingly in the last ten years. And for me, looking at other areas of business – I’m talking about restaurants, bars or IT, where people are developing here companies on an international level – I was thinking, maybe it’s a great starting point to develop a cultural event like that here. Brno is the biggest student city, we have 70,000 students. I think it is an ideal place for an event like that.”
Featuring mainly premieres and last year’s releases, the first year of the festival presented drama, comedy and thriller series, including fresh production by Netflix, HBO, Czech Television as well as the Czech online broadcaster Stream.cz. Each year, the festival plans to focus on one country – this year’s choice was Denmark with Lars von Trier’s miniseries “The Kingdom” and the award-winning show “The Legacy”. The festival also featured a competition section focusing on Central and Eastern Europe, with entries from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Estonia.
The Croatian show “Guardian of the Castle” took the main prize in the television category and the Czech series “Lajna” or The Line won in the online category. The Estonian series “The Bank” was awarded an honourable mention by the international jury of TV professionals from Norway, Denmark, Germany, the UK and other countries. Before the winners were announced, I spoke to one of the jury members, Markus Sterky of Swedish Television, who is also the chairman of the European Broadcasting Union’s TV Committee.
“Well, I’m very excited and very surprised by the quality of the fiction that has been in the competition. I can say that it was a very interesting discussion we had in the jury last night. It surprised many of us that it felt like very modern storytelling, it felt like you have examples where you really catch onto your own stories, you don’t sort of try to re-create what has worked in other countries. You dig where you are. And I think that’s also a sign that you can start building your own kind of culture, your own story about TV.
“There was Croatia, there was Romania, there were Poland, Estonia and there was Russia. And I think in all cases it was interesting to see that they try to approach where they are in history and not tell someone else’s story but their own stories in those respective countries. And I think that’s really key. Also of course, finding good individuals or characters who can represent that story, so it becomes engaging on an emotional level. And I think many of those did that.”
After one of the screenings, I spoke to translator Alžběta Šáchová who’s been subtitling TV shows for many years and who attended the festival both out of professional interest and as a self-proclaimed TV-show addict.
“Well, first of all I have to say that I’m a great binge-watcher and I’ve been dealing with translating TV shows or series for quite a long time, so I’m kind of a TV show addict but I think that one of the most important things which decided for me to come here was the person of Jiří Flígl who is the programme director and whose judgment and taste I totally trust. Well, I expected to see something which I’m not used to seeing because normally, I am more of an Anglo-American person and this festival is actually dealing with countries which are not famous for their TV industry, especially not in our country. It’s not like a big hit to watch German TV shows. But I have to say that it was one of the biggest surprises for me and I actually didn’t expect myself to be sitting in the cinemas from morning till evening binge-watching all kinds of shows from Central and Eastern Europe and I would say like 85 percent of the time I was mesmerized by the things I saw here.”
Alžběta Šáchová says it’s the bold choice of the screened works that she appreciates the most about the festival and she says she wishes the festival would stick to it in the coming years because at an event like this viewers can discover that quality TV is not restricted only to the huge international channels. And will she becoming next year?
“I’d love to because the atmosphere is great. All the things are happening in one place, it’s walking distance, it’s meeting great people, seeing interesting things, especially things which I normally would never watch. It wouldn’t even occur to me to watch a Croatian TV show. And when it comes to the moment when you actually sit in the cinema and you are so pleasantly surprised, I am shocked that I’m going to be leaving this festival wishing to see more of the series because we only were able to see like one or two episodes, mostly. And I really want to see more of the other things so I hope that Czech TV or some other channels will be brave enough to go against the mainstream and try to present to the Czech audience something which is surprisingly good. But it’s up to them to be brave and do it.”
“I think these kind of festivals are really important because you can start building your own narrative, you can start understanding were you are, because in the everyday situation in an industry like television, you don’t really have time to reflect. You keep producing, you do new things all the time. But by stopping up and discussing things at a festival like Serial Killer, I think you can really start trying to work out where are we? Are we doing the right things or should we be changing something? What is it that we’re trying to portray through the films that we make for TV?”
Markus Sterky says he believes it’s important to keep going with these events and try to fine tune them over time. When he comes back in ten-year’s time, he says he expects to see something very different but very good.
The founder of the Brno-based Serial Killer festival Kamila Zlatušková says she is now eager to hear as much feedback as possible about the first year so that she can learn from her mistakes and make the festival even better in the coming years. Citing the president of the European Film Market Beki Probst, she says talking to as many people as possible now is the way to build a great event over time.
“At the beginning of the festival I was extremely scared. A lot of people were very pessimistic about this event, a lot of people were extremely optimistic. And everybody just saw a different festival from their point of view. You know, my television is not your television – it’s always like that. We produced fifty screenings and fifteen panels and discussions. Yes, it’s a ‘pilot’ year, we will hopefully grow bigger. And the people after the first and second – especially the second day was a breaking point because people started to say, oh, wow, those screenings – actors we don’t know, language we don’t know, titles we don’t know but it was amazing. Each screening was for them an opportunity to watch something really new and with the hashtag #serialkiller it goes online and more people came and Friday was really a great day. For me, also speaking with a lot of international people who are here, I think it has a great potential to grow.”