Zvezdana Kovac and Nenad Sebek, the show’s anchors, with guest experts
The episode that was being taped that day dealt with the theme of the role of religious communities and religion in our societies. It was actually the second filming of the day, as there was a taping of another episode earlier in the morning on the question of whether we have started to face the war crimes of the 1990s. On first impression, the set seemed bright, very bright. I was invited to sit along with the audience for the filming, a group mostly made up of alumni of the European Fund for the Balkans. As I glanced around, I noticed the topical experts strategically positioned around the circular seating arrangement on the set getting prepared for the show to air. Zvezdana Kovac and Nenad Sebek, the show’s anchors, made their experience evident as they astutely instructed the panel on their obligations and informed them of the nuances of the production (e.g., camera angle, pauses, etc.). Watching Vicinities on television, the dialogue has a very natural flow to it and the show’s guest engage in debate and discussion that was both timely and dynamic. Being on set, I quickly realized how much work goes into making the show have that natural edge. In between screeching camera cranes, battery replacements, and make-up artists running around, the anchor’s need to be ready to spark the discussion, keep the audience engaged, and ensure that the subjects experts speak on cue and at length on the show’s theme. Surprisingly, the guests were very understanding of the stop and go nature that production requires and did not mind being interrupted or having to repeat their statements. Several times the discussion would veer off into a related topic, usually when the dialogue is dynamic and intense, but the guests were then kindly asked to stay on theme, as off-topic dialogue is essentially unusable material for the show. Being witness to the filming gave me a greater appreciation for the professionalism and hard work required to produce an hour’s worth of attention-grabbing television.
Production team managing to stay on time and on schedule
The theme of the show was a particularly interesting subject for me, not least because wars of the nineties have often been wrongly understood as religious conflicts rather than conflicts of interest. Having lived in the Balkans, as well as abroad, I consider people of the region to be fundamentally secular, no matter how much of a role the church holds in society or how diligently religious holidays are observed. You will seldom find religious doctrine in a Balkan household, nor encounter individuals able to recite verses and quotes. I would wager this to be consistent regardless of how people define themselves religiously. Yet, as the show laid evident, there seems to be a dividing line in terms of religion among citizens of the Balkans. To my surprise however, this line did not fall along ethnic identities of Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims. Instead, the line was drawn between believers and non-beliers, those that are religious and those that are atheists. The show was successful in highlighting the differing viewpoints. Guests were not hesitant to express their views and criticize those of others. It was not surprising to hear religious based arguments from how society should be organized to one’s altruism and dedication to others. That debate actually mirrored a very typical religious debate in societies far more stable and democratically consolidated than ours. That was a refreshing revelation, and perhaps even a realization that we may have moved past the most tense times of resentment and post-conflict abhorrence. If the focus of debate on religion amongst people of the Balkans is centered on the notion of believing versus not believing, instead of the ethnic-religious differences among us, I will take that as a step of progress in the right direction. This was certainly the first time that I’ve heard an extensive discussion on religion in the Balkans that failed to bring up times of war and religious disparity.
Ensuring that things look as good on camera as they do on set
Vicinities challenged the viewers to reflect on an important dialogue that rarely takes place and allowed them to form their own opinion. Its brazen approach to tackle head on the sensitive and previously taboo topic of religion constructively and without judgment instilled in viewers the prototype of how these conversations can place in their homes, their schools, their communities, and eventually on the political stage. After all, an educated and informed populace is the strongest catalyst for change. Television has been the medium of choice for advertisers and politicians to influence people for decades now, but it was refreshing to see it being used to push society forward, especially in a region where communication and understanding has been historically lacking. It will be interesting to see how the conversations on the program start to seep into the everyday conversations among the locals. I look forward to future episodes of Vicinities, not just because the show’s format engages the viewers with its back-and-forth dialogue among the panel of experts, but also because I am genuinely excited about the other contentious issues that will be covered by the series.
The audience awaits for the cameras to start rolling
Article by Dane Koruga,
Photos by Zvedana Kovac