French festival to celebrate resurgence of TV series

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The Independent Culture

Producers are harnessing new distribution methods and making more thought-provoking television as TV supplants Hollywood as the home of moving picture excellence, experts say.

The first international festival examining this phenomenon opens its doors at the "Forum des Images" (FDI) in Paris this week, bringing fans together with the people who make their favourite shows.

The forum's director for education Frederic Lavigne said today's series, particularly in Britain and the United States, "deal with reality, social matters and psychological subjects" in a way films fail to do.

Creators and critics see the new wave of productions as increasingly important social and artistic documents, as long-form shows like "The Wire" and "The Sopranos" set a standard filmmakers struggle to match.

The driving force has come from the United States, with many artists crossing over to TV from Hollywood, and aiming at educated niche markets instead of the mass multiplex audience.

"Cinemas are more dedicated to mass media - everyone watching the same thing at the same time all over the world," said Lavigne.

The way people consume audiovisual media is developing fast, with audiences embracing digital video recorders which enable them to schedule the recording of shows and watch them later.

Ever-greater numbers of people worldwide are choosing to watch TV through online streaming services. These offer viewers the ability to watch any show, at any time, from within their web browser.

Responding to the massive growth in illegal access to their shows through streaming, US television networks joined forces to launch the legal Hulu service in 2008, aimed at bringing customers back to the fold.

Hulu may have been inspired by the success of the BBC's on-demand iPlayer service, which launched in Britain in 2007 to huge public demand. In October 2009, the service received 53.2 million requests for TV programming.

The FDI, opened in 1980 to preserve images of Paris on film, reported annual visitor figures of up to 340,000 until its closure for renovation in 2005.

It re-opened in 2008 in a form which will be more recognisable to an audience used to TV on demand.

Its venue in the Les Halles centre in central Paris includes a number of traditional cinema screens as well as a viewing area with sofas, private booths, and computers providing access to its entire archive of 6,500 films.

"The point is not only to display the series on the big screen but to show how it's done, who is behind it, its social and artistic significance," added Lavigne.

The festival is the latest launched by the FDI to celebrate the emergence or development of art forms in the digital age. It has run a festival for films shot exclusively using mobile phone cameras every year since 2005.

Pre-existing annual television festivals, notably those in Monte Carlo and New York, are aimed at industry insiders, distributing awards and providing a venue for content producers to find financial backers.

The "Series Mania" offering of the FDI, meanwhile, will provide audiences access to shows' producers and directors, alongside individual and marathon screenings costing as little as 5 euros (6.75 dollars).

"Other festivals are just for professionals - we wanted to create a space for everybody," he added, noting that access to the conferences and debates would be free for the general public.

The festival will screen episodes of American series like "In Treatment", "Flashforward" and "Dexter", which have achieved global popularity, as well as numerous productions from France, Britain, China, Israel, Brazil and Canada.

There will also be conferences on subjects such as the production process and the question of whether TV series are replacing the cinema as an art form. A keynote debate topic asks whether 2009-2010 is "a new golden age" for television series.

"What we're trying to do goes further than screenings, we're accompanying them with introductions, debates and Q&A sessions explaining who made the series, why its themes are important or how it was broadcast," Lavigne said.

"Other festivals are just for professionals - we wanted to create a space for everybody," he added. Access to the conferences and debates are free for the general public.