Catalan Series ‘This Is Not Sweden’ Underscores the Build of Catalan TV

Catalan Series ‘This Is Not Sweden’ Underscores the Build of Catalan TV

Over the last seven years, Catalonia has built a thriving film industry which has been the envy of other regions across Europe, boasting a thriving co-production scene, a burgeoning animation industry, a 2022 Berlin Golden Bear with Clara Simon’s “Alcarrás,” and a bevy of prizes at 2023’s Berlinale, thanks to “20,000 Species of Bees.”

Catalonia even brought down the flag with Simon’s “Summer 1993,” a 2017 Berlin Best First Feature Film winner, on what could be hailed as a first film movement in Spain in decades: Fiction films grounded in a large sense upon a specific place, but talking about big social or gender issues.

Now Catalonia is attempting to achieve the same impact with its TV industry. Its early results led by “This Is Not Sweden,” will play out at Content Americas and most especially Sweden Göteborg Festival’s TV strand, TV Drama Vision.

Bowing November in Spain on Catalan and national pubcaster 3Cat and RTVE, “This is Not Sweden” follows a young couple, Mariana and Samuel who join other aspiring young professionals in a chic-back-to-the-woods village, atop the hills to the West overlooking Barcelona to give the best to their young children. 

A stunning tragedy hits neighbor Annika, Mariana’s Swedish role model mother, leading Mariana to question prior certainties about parenting.    

A Prix Europa winner, “This Is Not Sweden’s” success says much about the new ambitions of Catalan industry and key players such as state agency ICEC and pubcaster 3Cat, and Catalonia’s building attraction as an international co-production partner.   

New Galvanizing Catalan TV Support

One key to that attraction is new Catalan government TV state support. In 2022, Catalonia’s ICEC, its energetic cultural industry agency, awarded grants, worth €1.5 million ($1.6 million) each, to five ambitious Catalan-language series budgeted above €4 million ($4.4 million) and with 6-10 episodes. 

Three more series scored grants in December 2023: Diagonal TV’s “Campus,” “Mr Miyagi Films “La roda” and Veranda Media’s “Sessions.”

Recipients are very likely to interest 3 Cat, Catalonia’s public TV, which can come in with up to €1 million ($1.1 million), depending on the year. 

One first year winner, The Mediapro Studio’s “El Mal,” was presented Tuesday at Content Americas’ Copro Pitch 2024; Sold at Content Americas by RTVE, “This Is Not Sweden,” will feature at a session at late January’s TV Drama Vision as part of Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival, the biggest film-TV event in Scandinavia.

The Bigger Picture: Catalan Film, TV Build

Sweden’s Film i Vast and Scandinavia’s Nordisk Film & TV Fond offer co-production financing. Allocated directly by a public-sector agency, Catalonia’s €1.5 million grant may be unique in Europe, however.

It is also a sign of the times, says Edgar Garcia, director of ICEC. “The context is a radical change in consumer models, a paradigm change in social networks and the emerging protagonism of OTT streaming services,” he says.

Catalonia’s government has responded energetically. In 2019, total allocated ICEC audiovisual funding allocated stood at €12.6 million ($13.7 million). It rose to €40.8 million ($44.5 million) in 2022 and might rise again to an estimated €50 million ($54.5 million) in 2024, if the Catalan Parliament approves the budget. 

Consolidating Catalonia’s audiovisual sector figures as one of the Catalan government’s four strategic goals. “We have a double bet – on audiovisual and the Catalan language. “The government has committed to doubling the Culture Department budget from 1% to 2% of its total budget,” Garcia notes. 

“We’re trying to encourage Catalan producers to be more powerful and ambitious, with bigger financial muscle, and for above the line talent and crews not be encouraged to move ‘abroad’ – Madrid or beyond,” Garcia said.

New State Aid Impact

The grant’s impact is “enormous,” says Nanouk Films producer Sergi Cameron. “It’s the first time that a government has made a really strong support mechanism for scripted TV series. The incentive can amount to 20% or 30% of a budget.”

The incentive was key to making a series of quality. Without the $1.5 million, we would have had to have re-structured the series, even in its length,” adds Funicular Film’s producer Marta Baldó.

With it, creators will be able to make series with the resources they require; better financed, producers will retain more creative control over projects, Cameron concurs.

The grant “aims to allow producers to produce in Catalan from Catalonia, and attract broadcaster, streamer or international production partners,” he says. Negotiations with streaming platforms in Spain are reportedly taking place.

The ICEC aid means series can be nearer to the auteurist sensibility of cinema, he observes.

‘This Is Not Sweden’ BTS

International Co-Production 

This is certainly the case of “This Is Not Sweden.” A passion project of actor Clotet (“The Wild Ones”) turned director, “This is Not Sweden” is created by Clotet, Valentina Viso and Dani González from an original idea by Clotet and Barcelona-based producer Sergi Cameron.

Mariana and Samuel’s pursuit of perfect parentage – most episodes begin with a parenting group led by a psychologist – is frustrated by the punishing day-to-day routine of parenting.

That prompts insistently bathetic comedy skewering the pretensions of Barcelona’s well-healed young middle class, laced by genre tropes. 

“This Is Not Sweden” turns on the deep fears of parenting, and parents’ “firm will to give our children the maximum guarantees for the future. A high level of demand that, of course, led us to enormous frustration,” Clotet has said.

Talked up by Clotet to Cia Edström, head of TV Drama Vision at the Goteborg Festival Clotet was invited to pitch the project at the TV forum. Her presentation enthused Anna Croneman, head of drama at Swedish pubcaster SVT and Gunnar Carlsson at leading Swedish outfit Anagram Sweden (“Thin Blue Line,” “The Machinery,” an experienced international co-producer. 

“What really attracted us was Aina’s presentation. It was spectacular and really impressed us and SVT. They immediately wanted to go in as a co-producer and asked us to handle. We were very happy to do so,” Carlsson recalls. 

“This kind of regional fund is enormously important when it comes to financing. And this one in Catalonia. It tells different stories and it’s important for them to do so and when it comes with money connected, all the better,” he adds. 

Anagram Sweden boarded as a producer with Cameron’s Nanouk Films and fellow Barcelona production house Funicular Films, backed in Spain by nationwide pubcaster RTVE and newly reconfiguring Catalan state TV 3Cat.

Göteborg in fact proved crucial. Clotet’s pitch also attracted Finland’s YLE and Sabine Holtgreve at German public broadcaster NDR. “I fell in love with the project after I saw Aina Clotet pitching at Göteborg. She was so funny, smart and charming. The scripts were very well written, and gave me the impression of an authentic modern story about a young Catalan family,” Holtgreve tells Variety

In her opinion, the €1.5 million subsidy “helped the producers enormously. “This is Not Sweden” is not only a regional show, but also an international series. If you have so many partners, it means having a longer process of production and more costs. You must have strong partners at the country of your origin.”

With Finland’s YLE also boarding, “This Is Not Sweden” finally shaped up as a Nanouk, Funicular and Anagram Sweden production, co-produced by RTVE, 3Cat and SVT, in co-production with NDR and YLE.

Producing in Catalonia

One of “This Is Not Sweden’s” achievements, NDR’s Holtgreve argues, is its choice of setting. “The story takes place in the hills next to Barcelona. This is a very unique and attractive place! The milieu of our protagonists is familiar to our German urban audience: Young – a little bit selfish – citizens, who dream about living in an outback and start a new crazy and healthy life for their kids,” she says. 

Most series have a wide variety of locations, but this series has been very intensive, making that area of Barcelona a character and, I would say, it’s very particularly portrayed,” says Carlota Guerrero, Catalunya Film Commission manager.

“That meant a lot of work with the local film commission, the Barcelona Film Commission in this case, that went very smoothly. The production team worked a lot with the neighbors, with the local school and the Civic Center and all the facilities in that neighborhood,” she says.

“That said, I know the directors don’t really want to show that much in the series,” Guerrero continues. “They wanted to make this very singular location and give a universal idea of a kind of place in any given European city, which can easily translate to a well off suburb on the outskirts of any European city.”

At one point, Lía, the daughter, go on a field trip far enough away that they spend a night there. The trip was handled easily via one day exterior shots in El Prat, a short drive down to the coast.   

The grant helped the producers shoot one of the biggest challenges of “This Is Not Sweden”: Shooting with children. Most scenes feature Lía, Sam and Mariana’s little daughter. “Set hours are highly limited, making for an extremely complicated shoot schedule,” Cameron remembers. 

The solution was one location, in a leafy suburb in the Barcelona hills. But “This Is Not Sweden”s logic was more like a movie where you have a lot of locations,” says Baldó. The location became multiple mini-locations: parts of the road to school through the the nearby wood, the road to the real life primary school in the area, the house opposite, rented by Annika and her family. The production quality you see in the series you wouldn’t get shooting in a studio, and it puts up the cost of the series,” says Baldó. 

“This Is Not Sweden” was also the first Spanish series to win a Green Film Label, a sustainability award. Producing to its standards also costs money, Baldó observes.

“This Is Not Sweden” also tapped into local talent, led by co-creative director Mar Coll,  who broke out with her 2009 future debut, “Three Days With the Family,” a knowing portrait of the Catalan bourgeoisie. But the series taps into the whole of the Catalan film-TV ecosystem, Guerrero notes, sourcing Celia Giraldo and Sara Fantoya, two young directors from Barcelona’s famed ESCAC film school – where the just Oscar-nominated J.A. Bayona studied – whom Clotet met when she acted on a graduate film there.  

Reception of “This Is Not Sweden”

Bowing in primetime on 3Cat on Nov. 27, “This Is Not Sweden” scored a robust 20% share, a “very high result,” with all its eight episodes leading its slot, says Pio Vernis, audiovisual business director at 3Cat. The Catalan public broadcast also simulcast the series on its streaming platform, which has run up a fast 750,000 subs  from an October launch, Vernis announced.  

Airing on RTVE Play from Nov. 27, it has been one of the best performing titles on RTVE Play, its streaming service. 

‘This Is Not Sweden‘ was released by Finland’s YLE last week, all episodes available at once in their very well established AVOD platform, Areena, entitled “Kaukana Ruotsista,” meaning “Far from Sweden.”

SVT will bow “This is Not Sweden” in primetime this spring on its main linear channel, SVT 1, says Carlsson. “Most series now go straight to SVT Play, but this one is on broadcast.” 

Windowing, Splitting Rights 

In Catalonia’s favor, and Spanish production at large, 3Cat and RTVE are willing to work out intricate co-commissioning windowing arrangements. That has made RTVE Play, the public broadcaster’s streamer, an ever more exciting service. It has worked well on “This Is Not Sweden.”

To receive the grant, recipients must shoot at least 50% of the series in Catalan. “This Is Not Sweden” had two language versions, 75% Catalan for RTVE and around 85% for 3Cat and in Castilian Spanish for a dubbed version for RTVE.

3Cat and RTVE have split international sales by territories. “This Is Not Sweden” made its market debut at MipCancun and Asia TV Forum, being received with interest, says María-Jesús Pérez, RTVE international sales director. The series will also be talked up at Content Americas. Territories showing most interest are the U.K., Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, she adds.   

Challenges Remain

Governments can build a sector overnight, and Catalonia faces historical challenges. It launched one of Spain’s first autonomous region public broadcaster Televisió de Catalunya (TVC) in 1983. By the turn of its century, its second channel was rated as the best in Spain.

In late deregulation in Spain, however, all three private TV licenses were adjudicated over 1989-90 to companies in Madrid, consolidating the Spanish capital in one fell swoop as the center of Spain’s TV scene, attracting young creatives from all over the country. That brain drain hit Catalonia hard. 

It will take some time for Catalonia’s film sector to diversify into TV or broaden a deep talent pool. The process will not be overnight, García recognizes, but “This is Not Sweden” has shown a way, he argues. 

“This Is Not Sweden” was “really a positive experience,” says Carlsson. “We liked very, very much to work with them, and we had so much in common, and the process was so positive. So of course, we are looking for the possibility to continue this work together. Catalonia has enjoyed for a long time far greater freedoms. Their stories are a little bit more experimental. They have a little bit more courage in the stories they want to tell.”

A new Audiovisual Communication General Law obliges TV service providers to invest 5% of annual turnover in European films and series and part of that in titles in “co-official” languages in Spain, such as Catalan. It remains to be seen how that plays out, but the effect looks to be positive for Catalan production.

“In a few years time, there will be a boom in Catalan TV. Catalonia will be a pioneer in quality series in Europe,” says Cameron. 

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