Taking a seat in the cinema at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), it’s hard to ignore the palpable sense of anticipation coming from the crowd. It’s the kind of buzz anyone who has attended a film festival would know well, but tonight is different.
Tonight is the opening night of Series Mania Melbourne, the Australian edition of the world’s premier festival of television. Founded in France, Series Mania has developed a reputation as Cannes for the TV industry, and that’s by no means an overstatement. Last year’s festival, the first in the country, featured world premieres of such acclaimed shows as Australian miniseries Sunshine and Netflix’s Ozark, as well as discussions with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan.
This year’s program is just as exciting, with 16 Australian and five world premieres including Patrick Melrose, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugo Weaving, and Jennifer Jason Leigh and the first two episodes of Israeli dystopic drama Autonomies. What’s more, the majority of screenings and events are free.
Like any good festival, however, it’s not just the on-screen offerings that define the event.
François-Pier Pelinard Lambert is the Curator of Series Mania, and Editor in Chief of Le Film Francais. He says the festival was created with two goals; the first, exploring how narrative-based television content was being enjoyed around the world.
“Ten years ago we saw that more and more people were watching television series, and were actually having a passionate relationship with them. We felt that was something worthy of being analysed.”
The second goal was to develop “a neutral place” where producers, writers, and broadcasters could gather and exchange ideas without the pressure typically felt at markets or pitch meetings.
“Here there is no competition, just an exchange of ideas on how to improve fiction, on how fiction could travel, and what kind of topics would be interesting to embrace.”
These are important goals, especially in the context of the so-called New Golden Age of Television, which has showed no signs of slowing down since The Sopranos first appeared on HBO. In the nearly two decades since, it’s television that has proved the more popular and innovative medium for writers, directors, and producers to tell stories.
And there’s no better way to celebrate that than through the excitement and unifying force of a festival.
The experience of discovering a show on the big screen, without the distractions of the home, allows a more direct relationship to form between the viewer and the work. It’s the way television content should be discovered, deserves to be discovered, but rarely is.
Experiencing this directness with a like-minded audience, as was the case watching the opening night screening of Princess Pictures’ drama-comedy series Wrong Kind of Black, is truly special.
Series Mania runs from July 19th to the 22nd, so there’s be plenty of opportunities for Victorians to enjoy a similar experience thanks to Pelinard Lambert’s sensational program. Each series has been picked in full partnership with ACMI, with authenticity and artistic value being the key elements both the teams in France and Australia are looking for.
“It can’t be a case of judging a book by its cover”, emphasises Pelinard Lambert. “In a way, that’s killing a lot of movies right now. When you have the marketing machines of the big studios…it’s very difficult for much smaller films to exist, and we don’t want to have the same problem with television”.
As for the future of the festival, Pelinard Lambert says Series Mania will continue to grow; not to the scale of the ten-day sister event in the French city of Lillie, but to include more international content, and content creators.
It’s a future all of Australia’s TV fans and producers are sure to be looking forward to.