Film festivals aren’t just for movies anymore, so for the third year in a row the Berlin International Film Festival presented both its “Drama Series Days” and “Berlinale Special Series” television-focused programs.

The Same Sky (Der Gleiche Himmel)
The Same Sky (Der Gleiche Himmel): (L-R) Friederike Becht, Tom Schilling, Sofia Helin, Ben Becker — Photo © Erik Lee Steingroever, courtesy of 2017 Berlinale

Yesterday was the third and final day of “Drama Series Days,” the special section of the Berlinale dedicated to high-end television productions that are in development. This year producers pitched for co-production and financing partners for these seven titles.

Cognition (UK/US) – BAFTA nominee Alex Garcia Lopez (Misfits) is the creator and will be the writer and director of this neo-noir crime thriller series, which centers of two serial killer investigations: one in the vast, desolate, and declining US Midwest, the other in the thriving, overpopulated streets of the Far East. Already on board to executive produce this eight-part drama for Catalyst Global Media and A Better Tomorrow Films is the multiple award-winning producer and director John Woo (Mission: Impossible II).

Freud (Germany/Austria) – From Bavaria Fernsehproduktion and Satel Film comes this crime drama, in which the psychoanalytical skills of the eponymous hero are needed to catch a serial killer.

Hausen (Bulgaria) – Boutique production house Tanuki Films is behind German director and writer Till Kleinert’s (Der Samurai) mystery-horror-drama series set in a run-down high-rise estate.

Metro (France) – Lagardère Studios’ Kelija production label and the team behind the French futuristic thriller series Trepalium go back in time with this historical thriller set in the days of the first efforts to construct the subway system in Paris.

Omerta (Belgium) – Caviar, the production company behind the hit dark dramedy series Clan (aka The Out-Laws, currently streaming on the UK’s All 4 under the Walter Presents banner), is in development on this crime series, whose characters must constantly walk a fine line between trust and betrayal.

State of Happiness (Norway) – Set during the 1970s in the small Norwegian town of Stavanger, this drama series in development at Maipo Film centers on four characters that get caught up in the country’s oil boom. Multiple-award winner Petter Næss (Elling) and Amanda Awards winner Pål Jackman (Mammon) are set to direct the eight-episode series, which is written by Mette M. Bølstad (Nobel) from a concept by Siv Rajendram Eliassen (Acquitted) and Synnove Horsdal (Miss Julie). Commissioned by Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, State of Happiness begins filming this May.

Warrior (Denmark) – Created and directed by Christoffer Boe (Reconstruction) and produced by Miso Film for TV2 Denmark, this six-part drama series tells the story of a former soldier who struggles to find his way back into society after returning home from war. When he learns that a friend and fellow former soldier has committed suicide, he sets out to learn the truth behind his death. Budgeted at DKK 40/€6.4M, Warrior is slated to begin shooting this May.

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During the “Berlinale Special Series” program, which happened earlier in the film fest, the following six series had their world premieres and attendees got to watch the first two episodes of each.

4 Blocks (Germany)

Set in the Arab community of Berlin’s Neukölln district, this character-driven drama series stars Kida Khodr Ramadan (Berlin Station) as Ali “Toni” Hamady, a man desperate to escape the family business of drugs, prostitution, and money laundering to give himself and his wife Kalila (Maryam Zaree, Tatort) a fresh start. When his brother-in-law is arrested during a raid, Toni has little choice but to run the business, both for honor and to avoid being under the control of his other brother, the unpredictable Abbas (rapper Veysel Gelin), who’s already fashioned himself as the new head of the family. Things start to look up for Toni after his old and trusted friend Vince (Frederick Lau, Bukow and König) returns to Berlin, but Toni’s environment keeps him entrenched where he is and a downward spiral ensues.

Created by the writing team of Hanno Hackfort, Bob Konrad, and Richard Kropf (Koslowski & Haferkamp), directed by Marvin Kren (Berlin One), and produced by Wiedemann & Berg Television, 4 Blocks is the first original drama series commission for Turner Deutschland’s TNT Serie channel in Germany. The six-part drama features Almila Bagriacik (NSU: German History X), Oliver Masucci (Look Who’s Back), Ronald Zehrfeld (Weissensee), Ludwig Trepte (Deutschland 83), and Sami Nasser (Strassenkaiser).

4 Blocks is scheduled to bow on TNT Serie in spring 2017.

Below the Surface (Gidseltagningen) (Denmark/Germany)

This crime thriller series brings to the small screen one of the most horrific scenarios of contemporary life: an act of terrorism in the heart of a big city – specifically, three armed, masked men hijacking a below-ground metro train in Copenhagen during an October morning, taking fifteen people hostage, and threatening to kill them one by one if their ransom demands aren’t met. The Swedish government refuses and a terror taskforce, led by Philip Nørgaard (Johannes Lassen, Follow the Money) and Louise Falck (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen, Rita), is sent in to rescue the hostages. Meanwhile, relatives of the captives turn to popular reporter Naja Toft (Paprika Steen, The Inspector and the Sea) for help, and she becomes a go-between with the police during the tense eight-day standoff.

Below The Surface (Gidseltagningen)
Below The Surface (Gidseltagningen) — Photo © Christian Geisnæs, courtesy of 2017 Berlinale

Based on an original idea by writers Adam Price (Borgen) and Søren Sveistrup (The Killing), and co-produced by SAM Productions and ZDFneo for Discovery Networks Denmark’s Kanal 5, the eight-part drama features Dar Salim (Spring Tide), Tommy Kenter (The Protectors), Alexandre Willaume (Rita), Alba August (Jordskott), and Esben Dalgaard Andersen (Splitting Up Together). Kasper Barfoed (Dicte) is the creator, head writer, and director, and Morten Kjems Juhl (Lulu & Leon, aka Lulu the Bankrobber’s Wife, currently streaming in the US on MHz Choice) is the producer.

Below the Surface will debut this spring on Denmark’s Kanal 5. Iceland’s RUV, Norway’s TV Norge, and Sweden’s Kanal 5 will also broadcast the series.

Black Spot (Zone Blanche) (France/Belgium)

This noir crime thriller is set in the (fictional) Villefranche, a small, isolated town in the midst of a dense and mysterious 50,000-acre forest. To the town’s “sheriff,” Major Laurène Weiss (Suliane Brahim, Meurtre en trios actes), Villefranche is an ordinary town, despite its lack of wireless signals for mobile phones and GPS/sat nav systems; to Prosecutor Franck Siriani (Laurent Capelluto, The Returned), it’s anything but ordinary, what with a homicide rate that’s increased to six times the national average while the town’s population has continued to dwindle. As Franck delves into the dozens of murder cases that brought him to Villefranche, Laurène discovers more corpses while trying to unravel the mysteries of the forest, town, and her own abduction twenty years ago.

Black Spot (Zone blanche)
Black Spot (Zone blanche): (L-R) Suliane Brahim, Hubert Delattre, Laurent Capelluto – Photo © Jean-Philippe Baltel, courtesy of 2017 Berlinale

The series won the Best Director (Thierry Poiraud, The Return of James Battle, and Julien Despaux, Profilage), Best Photography (Christophe Nuyens, The Tunnel), and Most Promising Male Actor (Hubert Delattre, Templeton) awards at the 2017 Festival des Créations Télévisuelles de Luchon earlier in February.

Black Spot is slated air on France 2 this summer.

Patriot (US/Czech Republic)

An Amazon pilot that got a full series order is this drama which stars Aussie actor Michael Dorman (Wonderland) as John Tavner, a weed-smoking, folk-song-singing intelligence officer working under “non-official cover” as a process engineer for an industrial piping firm in Milwaukee. Certain details about the company make John the perfect operative for a mission to prevent Iran from going nuclear, so his father Tom (Terry O’Quinn, Lost), the Director of Intelligence for the US Department of State, sends him to Luxembourg for the first part of the plan. Things go awry from the off, but John’s congressman brother, Edward (Michael Chernus, Manhattan), gets him out of some spots of bother… at least until one incident triggers the involvement of homicide detective Agathe Albans (newcomer Aliette Opheim).

Filled with laugh-out-loud dark humor, the ten-episode Amazon Original series features Kurtwood Smith (That ‘70s Show), Canadian Kathleen Munroe (Resurrection), Chris Conrad (Attila), Englishman Julian Richings (Orphan Black), and Canadian Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal), who co-wrote the opener with series director Steve Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

You can stream the first episode for free right now, but will need an Amazon Prime Video subscription to watch the rest of Season 1 when Patriot premieres on 24 February 2017, on Amazon Prime in the US, UK, Germany, and Austria.

The Same Sky (Der Gleiche Himmel) (Germany/Czech Republic)

Set in the divided Berlin of the 1970s (about a decade before the time periods of Deutchland 83 and Weissensee), this Cold War thriller and family drama stars Tom Schilling (Generation War) as Lars Weber, an ambitious 25-year-old East German officer sent to West Berlin as a “Romeo” agent. His mission: to get information for the GDR by seducing his targets — women working in sensitive positions in the West. The primary one is Lauren Faber (Sofia Helin, The Bridge), a high-ranking British intelligence officer and lonely, single mother; the other is her younger colleague Sabine Cutter (Friederike Becht, Hannah Arendt). While Lars gets involved with both women (neither of whom knows about the other’s relationship), people on both sides of the Berlin Wall move amongst the Stasi and CIA spies – all under the same sky.

(Note: The trailer below contains scenes of a sexual nature. Viewer discretion is advised.)

The Same Sky is created and written by BAFTA winner Paula Milne (The Politician’s Wife), directed by Oscar® nominee Oliver Hirschbiegel (Five Minutes of Heaven), and costars Ben Becker (Bukow and König). The six-hour drama series is a production of UFA Fiction and Beta Film for ZDF, in co-production with Mia Film and in association with Rainmark Films.

Netflix has picked up The Same Sky for its English-language territories. The series will also screen on VRT in Belgium, DR in Denmark, YLE in Finland, France 3 and the SFR streaming platform in France, RUV in Iceland, RAI in Italy, NRK in Norway, and SVT in Sweden.

SS-GB (UK)

There’s fake news and there’s alternate history (although I supposed they could be the same thing, depending on one’s point of view). In the domain of TV drama, SS-GB is a tale premised on the latter. Adapted from Len Deighton’s novel of the same name, this spy story and conspiracy thriller is set in 1940s Britain, which in this version of history lost the Battle of Britain and is now under the rule of Hitler’s Germany. As British citizens struggle to adapt to life under the Nazis, London Detective Douglas Archer (Sam Riley, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) investigates what looks to be a black market-related murder. If only things were as simple as just tracking down a killer. Riley finds himself caught between two brutal SS bosses – Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger, Bukow & König) and Fritz Kellerman (Rainer Bock, 1864) – as well as between the German occupiers and the British Resistance movement.

The five-part miniseries features Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns), James Cosmo (Game of Thrones), Maeve Dermody (And Then There Were None), and Ronald Zehrfeld (Weissensee), along with Jason Flemyng (The Missing), Aneurin Barnard (War & Peace), and James Northcote (The Last Kingdom). Written by the “James Bond” team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Spectre), directed by Philipp Kadelbach (Generation War), and produced by Patrick Schweitzer (Whitechapel), SS-GB is a production of Sid Gentle Films for the BBC, in association with BBC Worldwide and Lookout Point.

SS-GB has its broadcast debut in the UK on BBC One, beginning Sunday, 19 February 2017. It will also screen in Australia, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, and Sweden, as well as countries in Africa and the Middle East that carry the BBC First channel. Stay tuned for updates about if/when a US network (BBC America?) or streaming service (BritBox?) picks up the series.

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New & Upcoming TV Series Featured at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival
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