Bruno Dumont and the Problem of Foreign Language TV

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Bruno Dumont is joining the ranks of acclaimed filmmakers trading in the big screen for the home screen.  Set to develop a police drama for French network ARTE, this will be his first foray into television. Dumont’s work, which includes L’humanité (1999) and Hors Satan (2011), has long been controversial and his filmmaking practises have challenged audiences through their intimate approach to violence and sex, and an unconventional sense of spiritualism.

Though popular on the arthouse circuit, Bruno Dumont has yet to find popularity in the mainstream. So is it just wishful thinking to believe that Dumont’s efforts could work to help open up foreign language television to new audiences? It seems as though the next big step for television is to be globalized, as most of us (at least in North America) are still dominated almost completely by the American market. Other English language programs squeak in, but any foreign language works that make it through are the exception not the rule.

As we live in a continually global world, it does not seem to such a great leap to believe that soon the best television from all nations will and should be made available to greater audiences.  As compared to movies, television does tend to be more specific and perhaps, this will present itself as one of the difficulties in finding new audiences. This hasn’t stopped networks from remaking popular programs: AMC re-adapting the Swedish crime drama, The Killing or even CBC taking the excellent Quebecois police drama 19-2 and making an English language counterpart.

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With no shortage of talent on the international stage, it would be great to see people from all over the world rallying in favour of great talent. Take for example the Portuguese program, Odisseia a meta-comedy journey of mythic proportions starring Bruno Nogueira,  Gonçalo Waddington and international movie-star/heart-throb Nuno Lopes. Drawing from classic mythology, as well as a variety of arthouse films, the show even out-metas Dan Harmon as it consistently breaks the fourth wall, as the division between character, actor and crew are continually disrupted. This show outranks most of the best comedy American network television has to offer but remains unseen due to the closed borders of the current television market.

The Internet might prove to be the deciding factor in this journey, as those of us living and experiencing alternative television markets can help bolster them through writing and campaigning. Even if more high-profile foreign language filmmakers take to television, the access to these shows and others like it will be highly dependent on the demand of foreign audiences. Though it seems to be wishful thinking to believe that we might be able to check out Bruno Dumont’s new series on mainstream television, with enough hype perhaps ARTE and others networks like it will start doing more online distribution and offering subtitles for their best programming. The golden-age of television we are currently living in is not an anglo-centric phenomenon; so let’s work to give power and access to these foreign language projects that deserve recognition.

– Justine Smith






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