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Belgian talent lines up new series for Connext

As the business heads to Antwerp for the Flanders Image-backed Connext conference this week, C21 takes a look at the new series that will be screened or pitched and touches on some of the issues likely to be discussed.

Kato De Boeck and Flo Van Deuren’s YA series Roomies

Connext comes at an interesting time for the Belgian content industry. Programming from this corner of Europe has been punching above its weight for several years now. Whether it’s unscripted formats, sketch comedies or quirky dramas, Belgian programming is travelling the globe.

The list of titles from Belgium that have made an impact around the world in recent years is a long one. Those to have been presented previously at Connext include Tabula Rasa, Two Summers, 1985, Undercover, Sophie Cross, The Bank Hacker, F*** You Very, Very Much and Clan, the latter being successfully adapted as Bad Sisters on Apple TV+. Legal drama The Twelve, furthermore, has been sold in its original form and adapted locally in Australia.

International productions are also heading to Flanders, attracted by generous tax incentives and a growing talent pool, and some production groups are setting up shop there. Eagle Eye Drama, the UK prodco set up by the team behind international drama brand Walter Presents, last week launched a production company in Belgium called Happy Duck Films, for example.

So industry interest in Connext, the Flanders Image-backed conference and screenings event, taking place from October 10 to 11 in person and through to October 24 online, should be high. Speakers and participants at the event include movie and TV talent such as Kaat Beels (Beau Séjour), Johan Grimonprez (Blue Orchids, Double Take), Tim Mielants (Patrick, The Responder), Koen Mortier (Ex-Drummer), Sanne Nuyens (Hotel Beau Séjour, The Twelve), Robin Pront (The Ardennes, The Silencing) and Fien Troch (Home).

New TV shows that will be pitched at the event include Caviar TV’s Dead End, from Malin-Sarah Gozin, the showrunner who created series such as Tabula Rasa and Clan. Emmy-winning writer and director Tim Van Aelst is also due to pitch the second season of Hate To Love You, while Kaat Beels will be discussing sequel The Twelve: The Cinderella Murders.

Charlie Dewulf’s Lovetips To Myself

Cecilia Verheyden (Undercover, Ferry) will pitch drama The Heysel Stadium Disaster, telling the story of the ill-fated soccer match between Liverpool and Juventus in 1985 through the eyes of a police captain, a doctor and two football fans, one from either side. Verheyden is also at Connext with Rough Diamonds, a series from Keshet/DeMensen which she co-directed with Rotem Shamir.

Kevin Janssens will present the TV series Breendonk, a tale of love, betrayal and death set against the backdrop of a Nazi prison camp, while Mathias Sercu will reveal the first scenes of J’aime la Vie, about the quest of a terminally ill mother to restore family ties so that her son won’t be left alone when she’s gone.

Anthony Nti is there to present Chameleon and other series aimed at the young-adult segment screening at the event include Roomies by Kato De Boeck and Flo Van Deuren, Exes by Pieter Van Hees, Charlie Dewulf’s Lovetips To Myself and 1985 by Wouter Bouvijn (The Twelve).

Another TV series to look out for is I Was a Cop In The 80s, about a Belgian Gendarme unit spearheaded by an American CIA agent, who are supposed to catch drug dealers but turn into criminals themselves. Blackout prodco Jonnydepony is producing this series.

Non-fiction series at the event include DNA and Catching The Pirate King by Lennart and Maarten Stuyck; Sarah El Kasmi’s Kids On The Block; and Draw For Change! by Nada Riyadh, Anna Moiseenko, Arya Rothe, Karen Vázquez Guadarrama, Kim Longinotto and Laura Nix.

Feature-length documentary titles include A Hiphop Minute by Pascal Garnier, Manu Riche’s Carbon, Slave Island by Jimmy Hendrickx and Jeremy Kewuan, Johan Grimonprez’s Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat, Bye Mom! by Marie De Hert and Ellen Pollard, and Thom Vander Beken’s The Last Jewish Summer.

Vander Beken also features as one of the creators of four immersive projects that are included in Connext this year. He is behind The Interview, which puts the participant in the position of an immigration officer. Another virtual reality project is Floating With Spirits by Juanita Onzaga (Our Song To War), which follows two young girls living in the mystical mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Kaat Beels will be at Connext to discuss The Twelve: The Cinderella Murders

As well as new shows to screen, there will be plenty of issues to explore in sessions and during networking opportunities. The importance of coproduction to Belgian producers cannot be overstated, given the relatively small market and the high ambitions for its dramas.

However, 1985, an Eyeworks period drama series dealing with the Brabant Killers, a violent gang that carried out a series of deadly assaults in the 1980s, is an interesting case. It is a rare coproduction between the two state-owned broadcasters in Belgium, VRT (Flemish) and RTBF (French-speaking).

French-speaking Belgian broadcasters are already buying more content from the Dutch-speaking part of the country, but if 1985 works, maybe copros between the two regions will be more common?

In addition, the arrival of streamer VRT Max – launched at the end of August – will be a talking point. How is it positioned against other Belgian streaming platforms such as Streamz, a joint venture between SBS Belgium owner Telenet and VTM parent company DPG Media? Not to mention all the global players now in the country. After all, Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, is a small market with a population of just 6.5 million.

In short, there will be plenty to discuss, screen and pitch at Connext this year, and in-person too, after the 2020 and 2021 editions took place only online due to Covid-19.

See you in Antwerp and in the online screenings afterwards!