International Insider: Berlin’s Back; ‘Tees’ Crossed Off Netflix Slate; Restart Scheme And Studio Tax Investigations; BBC’s ‘Grenfell’ Drama

Hello and welcome back to your weekly International Insider. Berlin’s back and with most of our team in the German capital, it’s Jesse Whittock here bringing you the latest from the worlds of TV and film.

Berlin Sensation

“I’m kind of shaking”: Straight over to Zac Ntim with this dispatch from the first night of Germany’s top film fest: Kristen Stewart, Sean Penn and Anne Hathaway were among the big names present as the 73rd Berlin Film Festival opened Thursday evening. This year is the festival’s full-blown return since the pandemic and the festivities began early Thursday morning as the festival jury, headed by Kristen Stewart, was presented to the press. “In full transparency, I’m kind of shaking,” Stewart said when asked about her jury duties at the opening presser. She was joined by fellow jurors Golshifteh 
Farahani, Valeska Grisebach, Radu Jude, Francine Maisler, Carla Simón and Johnnie To. The evening’s opening film was American filmmaker Rebecca Miller’s latest, She Came to Me, starring Peter Dinklage, Hathaway and Marisa Tomei, all of whom walked the festival’s red carpet.

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Sticky situation: Proceedings were briefly paused, however, when a pair of climate change activists appeared to glue themselves to the carpet in front of the Berlin Palast. The student activist group, The Last Generation, said it was behind the protest, according to Reuters. Our Melanie Goodfellow’s captured an image of the protest here. The red carpet also saw a demonstration led by Iranian actresses Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Melika Foroutan and Jasmin Tabatabai, who unfurled banners that read “Women Life Freedom” in solidarity with people in Iran who are protesting against the country’s authoritarian government. This political spirit continued throughout the evening as guests inside the Zoo Palast received a virtual welcome from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The politician delivered an empowered live video message to attendees urging filmmakers “not to remain silent” in response to global politics as his country approaches a year since the Russian invasion. Zelenskyy, who has made several video appearances at prominent film events, including Cannes and Venice, received a standing ovation from the festival crowd. Following Zelenskyy’s message, the festival opened with Miller’s She Came to Me, a contemporary romcom that Deadline’s Stephanie Bunbury described as “light but pungent.” “It is a perfect opening-night film,” she wrote.

What’s the deal?: There’s been no shortage of big deals struck at Berlin’s industry market EFM this week – you can read about some of them in our Essentials section below. Deadline has broken stories on all the biggest package deals, acquisitions, sales launches and castings, including a feature doc on celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, Kiefer Sutherland’s latest action flick and Zoe Saldaña and AGBO’s buzzy action-survival pic The Bluff. Read about them all here and we have all the other news, reviews and presser reaction here. Berlin runs February 16-26.

‘Tees’ Crossed Off Netflix Slate

Banerjee bemused: Liz Shackleton had an intriguing scoop on Tuesday, as she revealed Netflix India is not planning to release Dibakar Banerjee’s generation-spanning social drama Tees. Originally announced in 2019 as Freedom, Tees focuses on a middle-class family over three time periods they face social unrest, housing problems and a dystopian future. It sat in limbo for months before Netflix finally confirmed it won’t show the film. The streamer has agreed to let director Banerjee sell it elsewhere, but wouldn’t give him permission to screen it in Rotterdam this year, creating what he calls a “chicken and egg” situation where he can’t reach interested buyers. Netflix India hasn’t commented on why the film’s been shelved, with some murmurs of it not fitting with the current exec team’s content strategy, but a bemused Banerjee believes an increasingly hostile political environment for creatives in India is playing a role here. He likened the situation to that of Tandav, the 2021 Prime Video Hindi-language series that upset officials so much that criminal cases were made against cast and crew. Charges were dropped when execs agreed to assist with an investigation. Streaming platforms self-censor in India following guidelines from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. Read more here.

Restart Your Engine – If You Can

“Screaming into a vacuum”: When then-UK chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the £500M ($600M) Film & TV Production Restart Scheme in summer 2020, the industry rejoiced. The cameras hadn’t been rolling for months due to, amongst other factors, private insurers’ refusal to cover for Covid-related losses. The scheme promised to step in and do just that. But more than two years on, Diana and Max revealed in an investigation Tuesday that all is not as it seems. Protocol-abiding producers are waiting months for their claims to be finalized (one describes feeling they were “screaming into a vacuum”), forcing them to jettison their entire production fees, while some are being rejected outright by a process moving at a snail’s pace. Meanwhile, the scheme is currently running on a cash surplus having, incredibly, made more in premiums than it has paid out. Add to that a mysterious missing £6M that at time of writing had still not been accounted for by the UK government and one is given a fuller picture of how things have played out with this self-branded government success story. Grab a cup of tea and read on.

Crunch Time For UK Studios

Taxing issue: Having tried to sell Channel 4 into private hands and made the BBC’s output a constant target over recent years, the British Conservative government hasn’t exactly endeared itself to the UK production community. Our investigation into the mess at the Restart Scheme highlighted more problems and Jake followed that report up with another troubling development. Production sites such as Pinewood and Twickenham are facing what’s been dubbed a ‘studio tax’ after the Valuation Office Agency, an ominous-sounding government division, redrafted the studios’ “rateable values” – effectively an assessment of how much the sites would charge if they were on the open market. The higher the rateable value, the higher the tax, as Jake nicely put it. Pinewood’s rates would jump from around £4M ($4.8M) to over £16M ($19.1M), while Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden would see a five-fold increase to £25.3M ($30.2M). Considering UK production has been booming, with inwards investment from oversees players coming in at nearly £5.5BN ($6.5BN) in 2022, you can see why studio bosses are questioning why government officials appear to be “torpedoing” an industry that’s recovered excellently after the Covid-19 crisis. The VOA claims that streaming service investment and the attractiveness of producing I the UK has led to the increase in rental values and notes it is “engaging with industry representatives on the valuations.”

BBC’s ‘Grenfell’ Drama

Sensitive approach: The BBC has shown a propensity of late to tackle tough topics through the medium of scripted (See Jimmy Savile biopic The Reckoning) and the strategy ramped up this week with the announcement of a Grenfell Tower drama penned by BAFTA winner Peter Kosminsky. Grenfell will “shine a light on the human stories of those caught up in the tragedy” that saw 72 people die after a tower block in West London burned down in 2017. With a landmark public inquiry into how Grenfell happened yet to report, the announcement was met with a mixed response. While Kosminsky, the BBC and producer The Forge stress an in-depth research process has so far lasted five years and will continue, we understand one campaign group was blindsided by the press release and several Grenfell residents have since been in touch with the group to communicate their unhappiness. Any factual drama dealing with a tragedy that remains so raw in the public’s collective has to be handled extremely sensitively and the BBC will no doubt be aware of this. But don’t expect to be watching Grenfell anytime soon. Max revealed yesterday that Kosminsky is waiting until the inquiry’s findings are published to even begin writing and it will likely be another couple of years until this one makes it to screen.

The Essentials

🌶️ Hot One: Richard Ayoade will direct and star in The Semplica Girl Diaries. Big name stars look set to join the picture.

🌶️ Another One: Oscar nominee Whit Stillman is working on European rom-com adventure series The Splendid Affinities, per Max’s scoop.

🔥 More fire: Andreas revealed Blinded By the Light’s Viviek Kalra will co-star with Samantha Ruth Prabhu in cross-cultural rom-com Chennai Story.

🔥 Burn, baby, burn: Rupert Friend and Evanna Lynch are starring in James Joyce feature James & Lucia.

🤞 One more for luck: Anna Maxwell-Martin and Shaun Evans will topline ITV true-crime drama Delia Balmer (working title). Jake with this.

⬆️ Upped: Alice Damiani, who becomes Newen Connect’s Head of Film Sales, as Mel revealed.

🗣️ Interview: More Newen news, as we profiled Rodolphe Buet at the EFM.

🏪 Shutting up shop: Paramount Global’s UK unscripted arm, as I reported yesterday.

🛑 Closing: In a bad week for British unscripted, Youngest Media also shut up shop.

Kicking on: DAZN completed its takeover of sports streaming rival Eleven Group and Team Whistle.

🇨🇳 “Vital investment”: The BBC defended making glossy ads for Chinese companies and state media, following Jake’s investigation in December.

Zac Ntim and Max Goldbart contributed to this week’s Insider

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