Monday, 18 october, 2021 – Flemish TV series Albatros is the proud winner of the prestigious Prix Europa award for Best TV Fiction. Albatros is a drama series produced by Flemish production company De wereldvrede for Canvas, the VRT’s in-depth media brand. The Prix Europa, awarded on Friday evening in Potsdam, is not the only recognition Albatros has received. Czech public broadcaster Czech TV bought Albatros after it impressed them at the Serial Killer Television Festival in the Czech city of Brno.
‘For the third time in five years, a VRT commissioned production has won a Prix Europa,’ says Canvas network manager Lotte Vermeir. ‘This time it is Albatros, a series with an important theme that gives our audience the added value they have come to expect. We are very proud that we and our exceptional partners in the production sector can deliver such impressive and socially relevant drama.’
Flemish drama scores well internationally. As the Flemish public broadcaster, the VRT actively supports Flemish drama by entering into production partnerships and by featuring it strongly in its programming. These efforts have been successful. VRT series Albatros won the Prix Europa award for Best TV fiction, a category in which We moeten eens praten (We need to talk), produced for the VRT by production company De Mensen, was also nominated. And earlier that same week, the short film series Lockdown, produced by De Wereldvrede and Lecter Scripted Media, was awarded the 'Student Jury Prize for Best Short Form Series' at the renowned Cannes Festival.
VRT representatives and a comprehensive delegation from the Flemish production sector jointly attended the Serial Killer Festival. To underline the VRT’s active participatory role. ‘Like a Flemish invasion sweeping over Brno,’ that was how VRT CEO Frederik Delaplace enthusiastically described the passage of the Flemish delegation at the Serial Killer Festival. ‘Drama is and always will be a very important part of our offerings as a public broadcaster. Moreover, our reception here at this festival shows that our efforts to open up the international potential of Flemish fiction are more and more successful. And because of this, we are potentially gaining access to international funding for our drama productions. There’s absolutely no doubt that the international impact of our drama output is growing substantially.’
Belgian drama was one of the main themes at the Serial Killer Festival. Elly Vervloet, delegation leader and the VRT expert in international coproductions, explains: 'There have been public screenings of series such as Albatros and Beau Séjour 2, and the professional public also had the opportunity to watch We moeten eens praten (We need to talk) and Gevoel voor Tumor (Sense of Tumour). Even series that are still in production, such as Lost Luggage, Arcadia and 1985 have been shown at the festival. With these series, we have not only inspired Czech programme makers, we have also highlighted how we make a difference with our high-quality, relevant and daring drama productions.'
Helen Perquy (of production company jonnydepony, makers of, among other things, the series Black-out) says: 'Flemish drama stands out. We are therefore increasingly being invited to festivals such as Serial Killer. For us – as an independent producer – it is crucial to maintain our own creativity. And the support of broadcasters and organisations such as the VRT and the VAF, allows us to obtain that goal.'
Koen Van Bockstal, Director Intendant of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) confirms that our joint efforts are contributing to the rise of Flemish drama: ‘At an international festival like this we can show the world how a little region is capable of making impressive series in an incredibly innovative way. We do it by telling powerful and authentic stories. The VRT is a partner in many of these productions and is really making a difference here as a public broadcaster.’
At the Serial Killer debate table, Frederik Delaplace and Helen Perquy met Petr Dvořák, the CEO of Czech Television, and Lubomír Zaorálek, the Czech Minister of Culture, whose media are in a similar situation. The Czech Republic is a medium-sized European country and, just like the VRT, Czech Television also makes a lot of productions in the local language.
'A local language and a smaller budge may have been seen as limitations in the past,' said Frederik Delaplace. ‘But for several years now, it has been a strategy to capitalise on that singularity. Authenticity is the clue. If we then combine our craftsmanship with universally recognisable emotions, it makes no difference what language we’re using. The viewer can recognise the emotion. Take for example the mini-series we have brought with us: We moeten eens praten (We need to talk). When our partner says that, we all know that we have a problem, no matter where we live or what language we speak.’
Just like the VRT, Czech Television is a public broadcaster. Frederik Delaplace: 'Serial Killer's programming includes Gevoel voor tumor (Sense of Tumour), a drama series that dares to laugh at cancer. Nowhere in the world would a commercial broadcaster ever dare to tackle such a serious issue in such a light-hearted way, because it would be commercial suicide. But as a public broadcaster we can take that risk and I believe it is our public duty to do so. Our trump card is that we are free to facilitate daring drama.'
Dare to stand up to the streaming giants
The debate also addressed the increasing impact of the international streaming giants. This is being felt by national media sectors and local producers throughout Europe. ‘Those giants have us in their sights and they are coming at us at great speed,’ said Helen Perquy. ‘We have to keep on doing what we are good at: courageously producing cutting-edge drama. Each new drama series is a prototype. And to build such a prototype takes courage, professionalism, confidence and trust. Local partners obviously know each other best and mutual trust is the key to continuing to support and strengthen each other. The VRT has a very important role to play in the continuation of powerful Flemish drama.'
Streaming services know better than anyone that more and more end users are watching drama whenever and wherever they please on their preferred device. ‘We should not consider this evolution a threat,’ said Frederik Delaplace. ‘We should embrace it. This new way of watching doesn’t mean viewers are no longer interested in our offerings. We just have to ensure that our output is available to them on the platform of their choice and that our content suits that platform. And yes, that goes for drama too. The streaming giants have changed the way we work. Our challenge is to earn our seat at the table by offering high quality productions. We public broadcasters can do that by intelligently dealing with our limitations in terms of budget and language.'