Televisa’s “Sincronía,” HBO Latin America’s “PSI,” Telefe’s “The Cockfighter” and Telemundo’s “Guerra de Idolos” feature at The Wit’s first MipDrama Latam Screenings, a 90-minute showcase focus that parts the veil on the new face of Latin American fiction.
“The aim of these Screenings is to show the new or next face or phase of the Latin productions coming onto the international market,” said The Wit’s Bertrand Villegas.
At least judged by the poor-girl-gets-rich telenovelas of old, Latin America’s new fiction face shown at the Latam Screenings is pretty well unrecognizable. It is also a revolution in which the region’s biggest broadcasters – Televisa, Telemundo, Globo – Hollywood’s studios and pay-TV icons, Latino indies and emerging auteurs all play their part.
Representing Televisa, crime thriller “Sincronia,” the eighth original series from Blim, its 14-month-old SVOD service, runs just 12 episodes. Formally inventive, these 12 parts can be seen in any order, said director Gustavo Loza, as it tells three stories from their four characters’ POV. One central figure is a pedophile and priest, another a corrupt politician; a third story turns on human trafficking. Most characters end up badly.
“The so-called narco novelas are digging deeper, getting to the political systems, corruption behind the cartels,” Villegas commented.
One of NBC Universal Telemundo’s flagship shows at this year’s MipTV, the upcoming 75-seg “Guerra de Idolos” marks Telemundo’s first original music drama series as a successful composer-producer, after tragedy, unleashes a war against mafias linked to the music business sparking on and off-stage conflict. Film director Max Zunino (“Open Cage,” “Mist”) co-directs in a migration of young movie talent into TV which is seen all over Latin America.
From HBO Latin America, the first TV operator to introduce into Latin America original limited series with above-average budgets, beginning with crime fiction “Epitafios” in 2003, “PSI” is a comedy drama series based on books by psychoanalyst Contardo Calligaris, and featuring a shrink who investigates Sao Paulo crime cases. It is is not new. But scenes to be screened are from its third season, which bows April 17, have more of a movie style and focus on the psycho-analyst’s patients, Villegas said.
“If you want to compete with big platforms, you need the same quality as HBO, Amazon, etc,. so you need to find partners,” said Geraldine Gonard, director of Spain’s upcoming first Conecta Ficcion, a European-Latin American TV co-pro forum.
That it immediately apparent in Argentina where TNT is teaming with production house Underground, TV network Telefe and cable operator Cablevision to produce “The Cockfighter,” a 10-episode adventure thriller marking the comeback of Bruno Stagnaro (“Pizza, Birra, Faso”) and produced by Sebastian Ortega, the showrunner on Netflix pickup “El Marginal” and an example of Latin American Tv auteur now garnering international recognition.
Adding an aspirational and inspirational edge to local references, often of global re-known, and in a surge which may spread to the rest of the world, said Villegas, many series are now bio-series. Two feature at the Latam Screenings: the Caracol-aired “Surviving Pablo Escobar, Alias J.J,” also a Netflix pick-up, and Sony Pictures Television’s “El Comandante,” sold by Telemundo.
Based on a same-titled book by Pablo Escobar’s former henchman John Jairo Velazquez, aka “Popeye,” “Surviving Pablo Escobar” turns on how, when Escobar dies, Velazquez has to fight for his life in prison, forcing him to forge alliances with former drug cartel enemies and politicians.
“Bio series’ subjects are brands, they’re easy to create and have basic values, such as that they are reality-based and can present interesting stories,” Villegas said.
Inspired by the life of Hugo Chavez, played by award-winning Colombian actor Andrés Parra (“Escobar, el patron del mal”), “El Comandante” has aired on Colombia’s RCN TV and on TNT Latin American since January. Telefe, Telemundo and Blim will also broadcast the series, according to Villegas.
Broadcasters aren’t always showing their biggest local hits at the Screenings. “El Comandante” plays late night in Colombia where it is bested in ratings by “El señor de los cielos” and RCN’s own primetime hit, “La Ley del Corazon,” which is set at a legal practice.
At least some series in Latin America are being made very clearly with at least one eye on international sales, said Villegas. Beyond “El Comandante,” one possible case in point is Globo’s “The Days Were Like That.” Scheduled to bow on Globo from April 17, the period romance is set during Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, narrating how a young couple meets at the 1970 soccer World Cup final and falls in love. But their families’ political values ultimately tear them apart.
Delivering sometimes 180-plus episodes, telenovelas cann0t be written off just yet. Just as you think they are dying, one punches huge ratings, said Manuel Marti, director of international production, at Pol-ka, one of Latin America’s biggest production houses.
Bowing Feb. 8 in Colombia on Caracol, “Surviving Pablo Escobar, Alias J.J” has duked it out every week day primetime with two more traditional telenovelas, “La Ley del Corazon” and Caracol’s own, earlier Caribbean coast set culture clash romcom, “A Carnival Affair.”
In Brazil, Globo and TV Record, who still boast vast audiences for hit telenovelas, are simply raising the ante.
Wrapping its first season on Brazil’s TV Record on March 17, “The Promised Land” is a sequel to the phenomenally successful TV Record biblical telenovela “The 10 Commandments,” whose major achievement was to meld the two major narratives for many Latin Americans, the Bible and telenovelas, in one bold whole. Inspired by the Book of Joshua, “The Promised Land” featured 43 sets, 7000 extras, VFX (of course) for the parting of the waves, and a reported budget of $26 million.
Latin American telenovelas were and are far more diverse than they are often given credit. RCN TV’s “Francisco the Mathematician,” a retread of a 1999-2004 novela, tracks a former pupil who returns in 2017 as a maths teacher to his tough Bogota ‘burb high-school, confronting bullying, DMA drug abuse and addiction to social media.
Bowing Jan. 12 on Mexico’s TV Azteca, drama-action telenovela “Iron Lady” features a female judge, aka the ‘Iron Prosecutor,’ who battles a heinous drug-lord who has destroyed her family, killing her father and confining her husbands to a wheelchair.
Rapidly, Latin American fiction is also letting in the contemporary world. “Latin American TV narration is a reflection where people want to see what’s around them,” says Daniel Burman, at Burman Office, which is set to produce Argentina’s first Netflix series, “Edha.”
The large question is how far younger audiences will warm to such dramas from brands they have traditionally cold-shouldered and how Latin American fiction can face off for their attention with YouTube and multiple other leisure pursuits and the best of world TV.
THE WIT’S 1ST MIPDRAMA LATAM SCREENINGS, MONDAY, APRIL 3, 8.45-10.00, FEATURED PRODUCTIONS
“The Cockfighter,” (Telefe, Argentina)
“El Comandante,” (Sony Pictures Television, Telemundo, Colombia)
“The Days Were Like That,” (Globo, Brazil)
“Francisco the Mathematician,” (RCN TV, Colombia)
“Guerra de Idolos,” (Telemundo, U.S.)
“Iron Lady,” (TV Azteca, Mexico)
“The Promised Land,” (TV Record, Brazil)
“PSI,” (HBO Latin America, Brazil)
“Sincronía,” (Televisa, Mexico)
“Surviving Pablo Escobar, Alias J.J,” (Caracol, Colombia)