Art and culture

TV Biz Promotes Activism With ‘Mr. Bates,’ Mandela Doc

An acute sense of instability will inform much of the content bought and sold on the MipTV floor, though the symptoms might manifest themselves beyond doom and gloom. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given an unrelenting remit of climate anxieties and global unrest, this tendency has left no genre untouched.

“Obviously the world in which we live is quite dramatic at the moment, and that has created an appetite for stories that offer solutions,” explains international distribution expert Beatrice Rossmanith. As head of global business for consulting firm Glance Ltd (formerly known as TAPE Consultancy), Rossmanith monitors content across hundreds of channels in 45 territories worldwide. And lately she has noticed a pervasive trend.

“There’s obviously a thirst for truth nowadays,” Rossmanith says. “[And a thirst] to tackle modern anxieties by asking what more can we do?”

In the lifestyle space, celebrity profiles are increasingly linked to some sort of activism and political engagement – (“It’s not just about a celebrity,” says Rossmanith. “It has to say something more”) – while sports docs now emphasize physical and mental health. While true-crime points toward dramatic resolutions, high-end science docs accent hopefulness and positive reinforcement, stressing what we’re getting right. (“If we’re going to protect the environment, we need to fall in love with it,” Rossmanith adds.)

K7 Media’s Clare Thompson echoes those findings, pointing toward ITV’s galvanizing civic activism drama “Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office” in the scripted space, and – perhaps most surprising of all – BBC’s factual entertainment format “Sort Your Life Out,” which simply finds people clearing out their household clutter, and has already traveled to 11 additional territories.

“Whereas 15-20 years ago it would have followed some kind of expert, now it’s much more about mental health and making you feel better,” says Thompson. “When the world feels big and scary, the format says I can’t fix everything, but I can fix this, my own little corner.”

Documentary filmmaker and Trilogy Films founder Dawn Porter sees this new tendency as anything but escapist.

“You can’t say the world is ending and there’s nothing you can do,” says Porter. “You can’t just scare the bejesus out of people and expect them to like it, because who wants to watch that? People want to feel like they are still grounded, that they have some control, some way to positively affect their futures.”

In fact, Porter gives these concerns real consideration when developing new projects. “I’m now looking for stories that make you feel like you can handle this tough news while doing something about it, stories that don’t just dump a new problem in your lap along with everything else to worry about.”

The filmmaker is currently working on an MSNBC series about wrongful incarceration and a doc about Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Both will tackle their subjects from unconventional angles. While the series follows an investigative producer who teamed with law-enforcement to spring innocent inmates from custody, the Mandela portrait will counter previous efforts that veered too far into hagiography.

“It’s not enough to call out mass incarceration and wrongful convictions,” says Porter. “Instead, we could pay attention and help. [As for Mandela], he didn’t start as anything special. He wasn’t the genius of his class, and he wasn’t this super athlete. If we tell our next generation of leaders that they need to be saints then who would want to do that job? Instead, let’s say that change is hard, it’s complicated, it requires sacrifices, but it’s possible.”

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  • Source of information and images “variety “

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