Tag Archives: Bordertown

Nordic Noir gets a lighter Finnish

A new crime drama set on the border of Finland and Russia has ambitions to show the lighter side of Nordic Noir.

If you think of a television show that comes with the Nordic Noir label, it’s likely that series originally hails from Denmark or Sweden. The Killing, The Bridge, Jordskott and Wallander have each helped to build the global interest in Scandinavian drama. But Norway and Iceland have now also joined in, with Occupied and Trapped respectively – and now Finland is getting into the game.

Bordertown, known locally as Sorjonen, is a crime drama set in the town of Lappeenranta, close to the Finnish border with Russia.

It centres on chief investigator Kari Sorjonen (played by Ville Virtanen) who moves with his wife and teenage daughter to the small town to enjoy a more peaceful life. Their new life is far from idyllic, however, as the new police chief has to use his detective skills to investigate several murder cases and track down the serial killer who is tormenting the community – and he soon discovers the crimes are not only connected to each other but to his family as well.

Bordertown stars Ville Virtanen as Kari Sorjonen
Bordertown stars Ville Virtanen as Kari Sorjonen

The 11-part series, due to air on Finnish broadcaster YLE in October, is produced by Fisher King Production and Federation Entertainment, with the latter distributing worldwide.

But while the standard-bearers of Nordic Noir mean the genre will always be associated with gritty landscapes and often brutal murders, Bordertown aims to bring out its lighter side, despite the serial killer plotline.

Fisher King producer Matti Halonen explains: “Very often Nordic Noir only tells the dark side of the story. We wanted to combine a warm family drama with a story that you want to follow through the season, combined with five different crimes that show the Nordic Noir elements.

“It’s important for us and YLE to have family at the centre of the story. Also, the fact the whole story is set on the border with Russia is not because we want to or do see them as a threat, which is normally used in a drama. In Bordertown, almost all the crimes come from the Finnish side.”

Lionel Uzan
Lionel Uzan

Halonen says Lappeenranta was a natural location for the story to be set, owing to the vast numbers of tourists and visitors that come from Russia across Finland’s eastern border.

“It felt for us that when we started to create the show, it was a natural place for it to be set,” he continues. “It’s the border of the Western world and Europe with Russia and the East – two different cultures, two different economies. It’s full of drama!”

Viewers always expect Russian characters to be the bad guys, notes Lionel Uzan, MD and co-founder of Federation. “But what we really loved when we read the scripts is everything has been turned around,” he says. “The bad guys are not who you think they are, the main character is not your typical crime noir character. So in the end you have a typical crime series from Scandinavia but with elements that are truly original.

“The risk when you have such a strong genre is to do the same thing over and over again. I’m sure some series are like that – just a redo from the previous killing. I don’t think that’s what Finland is bringing now.”

It’s those recognisable Nordic Noir clichés that Uzan says are potential pitfalls for any new series coming out of the region. How can they take the best from the genre and avoid treading on the toes of shows that have come before them?

“How do you reinvent or make it different? What Bordertown brings is family and crime, really mixed together. You haven’t seen that before, even in the great Scandi series.

“If you talk about the main characters of The Killing and other series like that, they’re very depressed, very dark. It always ends badly. Here, it’s not the same. The sergeant is totally original. He’s an offbeat character in the way he reacts with people and the way he acts with his family. He’s warm and very close to his family. It’s not a tough relationship that you’ve seen in lots of Scandi crime series.”

The Bordertown team hopes different elements of the show will appeal to different broadcasters

With five murders spanning the entire first season of the show, Uzan explains that the serialised story arc focusing on the family is complemented by the procedural, closed-ended police elements – a combination he says is attractive to both free TV and pay TV broadcasters that are interested in bringing Bordertown to audiences around the world.

“Even though it’s still violent, it’s got a wider approach,” he says. “It’s the family aspect that broadens its appeal. It’s almost as if different buyers can get different things out of the same show, which you don’t see very often. Very often you can say, ‘this is a pay TV show, this is a free TV show.’ Bordertown really works for both.”

The series was shot across 100 days, often employing two units at the same time to split the filming time in half depending on actors’ availability.

Discussing the look of the show, Halonen says writer/director Miikko Oikkonen wanted to create a TV series fit for the big screen. “We wanted it to have a cinematic look, which is much easier nowadays,” he explains. “We not only wanted a cinematic vision but exciting camera movements to support the drama. The cameras bring more to the drama, rather than take the audience away from it.”

Uzan adds: “You don’t often hear about composition of the image when you speak to series producers and creators. It’s usually narrative, narrative, narrative. But when you can also think about the composition, it’s the best of both worlds between movies and series. That’s something quite important, which helps you to be original and different. It’s production value that doesn’t cost a lot. When you think like a feature-film director, you can make something looks great without needing explosions and special effects. It’s about having a visual mind.”

With a second season already in development, viewers can look forward to revisiting Bordertown in 2017. Meanwhile, Fisher King and Federation will continue to work together to develop drama series for international audiences.

“The audience right now is so sophisticated, they can feel if a series is authentic or not,” Uzan adds. “You cannot make a Europudding – if you do that, you’re dead. What we find interesting is that, more and more, language barriers are slowly diminishing. Wherever the project comes from and whatever the language, you have interest.

“I come from features where if you’re not in English, you’re art house, no matter what you do. That’s it. That’s the rule. But what’s interesting now in series is these barriers don’t exist anymore. Thanks to the platforms and catch-up services, so many people now have so much access to content that the audience gets more sophisticated. It’s almost a way to discover a new culture. It’s a virtuous circle where the more content is accessible to more people, the more they become sophisticated and the more they demand original content. That’s very interesting.”

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Mip’s miniseries and serials

With MipTV imminent, miniseries and serials continue to be a major focal point for many international buyers. This week we preview a dozen of the limited-run dramas that will attract attention at the Cannes market.

American Gods is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s iconic fantasy adventure novel by FremantleMedia North America (FMNA) for US pay TV channel Starz. It is distributed by FremantleMedia International. On the eve of Mip, FMNA began to provide details on the key cast, something that will be of interest to buyers in Cannes. They key addition is Emily Browning (Legend), who has been cast as Laura Moon. Other announced cast members include Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Sean Harris, Yetide Badaki and Bruce Langley. The series begins shooting next month.

Bordertown1-620x314Bordertown is a coproduction between Federation Entertainment and Fisher King Productions for Finnish public broadcaster YLE. The 11-part show follows a police investigator who moves to a Finland-Russia border town with his family for a quiet life but instead gets caught up in a serial killer case. The show is one of 12 titles to feature in the new MipDrama Screenings.

intersectionIntersection is a 13-part drama distributed by Endemol Shine International that aired on free-to-air channel Fox in Turkey and has just been renewed for a second season. Set in Istanbul, the thriller follows a love triangle involving a playboy businessman, a car designer and a beautiful woman. The three main stars – Ibrahim Çelikkol, Belçim Bilgin and Alican Yücesoy – will be in Cannes.

Ku’damm 56 – Rebel With A Cause is a three-part family drama produced by UFA Fiction for ZDF/ZDF Enterprises and written by Dorothee Schon. Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of young women of the era and their struggle for equality. (Read more about Ku’damm 56 here.)


Marcella-s1-1Marcella is a new drama from Cineflix Rights. Produced by Buccaneer Media for ITV and written by Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge), it stars Anna Friel (Limitless) as a UK detective investigating a serial murder case where the modus operandi of the killer bears a striking resemblance to an unsolved spate of killings from a decade before. The series also stars Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey), Sinead Cusack (Jekyll & Hyde) and Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones), among others.

Medici: Masters of Florence is an eight-part English-language Italian series about the rise of the Medici family and the Italian Renaissance, with a €24m (US$26.91m) budget. Produced by Lux Vide SPA and Big Light Productions, it features Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) and is directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. The show will be broadcast in Italy by Rai and distributed internationally by Wild Bunch TV

public-enemyPublic Enemy is a 10-hour drama from Belgium, aired domestically by RTBF and distributed by Zodiak Rights. It centres on Guy Béranger, a dangerous child murderer whose eventual release leads to an outcry from the nearby small village and the rest of the country. When a young girl subsequently disappears, the entire village is in uproar. Chloé Muller, a young inspector based in Brussels, is assigned to the investigation to protect the despised Béranger, bringing her face-to-face with the fears and secrets of the seemingly peaceful community.

rootsRoots is a reboot of the classic 1970s series and is again based on the acclaimed book by Alex Haley. Distributed by A+E International, it’s a detailed portrait of American slavery, recounting the journey of one family and their will to survive and ultimately carry on their legacy despite great hardship. Roots boasts a stellar cast and will debut on May 30 across History, A&E and Lifetime channels in the US. The series starts with the capture of Kunta Kinte in his homeland of The Gambia and follows his transportation to America where he is enslaved.

sectionzSection Zéro is an eight-part French drama that was first introduced to the international market last year. Attending MipTV as part of the new MipDrama Screenings, it is produced by EuropaCorp Television, Bad Company and Umedia for Canal+ France with StudioCanal as distributor. The show is set in 2024 and sees an elite police squad battle it out with powerful corporations and their robots. StudioCanal has called the series a mix of Fargo, The Returned and Mad Max.

The Secret is a four-hour crime drama from Hat Trick Productions in association with Northern Ireland Screen. Starring James Nesbitt (The Missing) and based on a book by Deric Henderson, it focuses on a real-life double murder. Nesbitt plays Colin Howell, a respectable dentist and pillar of the community, while Genevieve O’Reilly (The Honourable Woman) is Sunday school teacher Hazel Buchanan. Howell and Buchanan met at their local Church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland and embarked upon a passionate and destructive affair, which climaxed in an elaborate plot to kill both their partners. The show is being distributed by Hat Trick International.

Pick up the latest DQ in Cannes
Pick up the latest DQ in Cannes

Victoria is an eight-part historical drama from ITV Studios Global Entertainment. Produced by Mammoth Screen, it follows the early life of the celebrated UK monarch, who ascended the throne aged just 18. The series has already been picked up by PBS in the US and will be screened to an audience of 350 at the first-ever MipDrama Screenings on Sunday April 3.

Wolf Creek is a new psychological thriller based on the international feature film of the same name. Produced by Screentime for Stan in Australia, it focuses on a 19-year-old girl seeking revenge against the murdering psychopath who killed her parents and little brother. The six-hour series is being distributed by Zodiak Rights.

If you’re in Cannes for MipTV and want to read more about Marcella, Victoria and much, much more, pick up the spring 2016 issue of Drama Quarterly.

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