The key is under the mat

scene from the reality show
The film crew follows participants, Maria and Tamara, shopping in a popular retail store - possibly a new experience. (Photo: UNDP)

A new TV show that takes a fresh and innovative approach to promoting cultural diversity just started airing on Macedonian National Television. The programme, called The Key is Under the Mat, is a series of five short films that document two-day visits between young people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.The first show of its kind in the country, the series is the outcome of a UNDP-supported initiative that forms part of a wider UN programme (alongside UNICEF and UNESCO and the national government) for enhancing inter-ethnic dialogue and collaboration.

The result is a bright, positive look at how embracing diversity enriches experience. Filmed in a pacy but down-to-earth style that’s part documentary, part reality show, each 30-minute episode starts with the participants and their families telling us about their lives and values before each visit begins.

The series takes 18-year-old Boban Mazucanec from Prilep to Tetovo, for example, where he stays with the Roma family of Dzengis Huseini. Another episode takes 22-year old Refik Tair, from the Turkish community in Kumanovo, to the family of Agon Celiku in Skopje.
 
‘The personalities of the participants and their values of tolerance and open-heartedness really shine when they come together in families and take part in everyday rituals like cooking means and eating together”, says the programme’s producer Irina Janevska.

The open-hearted spirit is captured in the note on the door that greets each guest’s arrival—‘the key is under the mat’. We follow as the participants let themselves inside to meet their hosts. The films nicely combine everyday activities and spontaneous conversation with more structured tasks. The guests not only share family meals, meet friends and get shown around the neighbourhood, they also co-operate to get specific tasks completed during their stays.

When Tamara Kotevska, a young Macedonian born in Prilep, visits the Vlach family of Marija Brova in Skopje, for example, her tasks include learning how to cook some of Maria’s mother’s specialities as well as working together with Maria on a music video. ‘It was really fun making the video,’ says Tamara, who plans to study Directing at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, ‘And the music we chose was special—a Vlach folk song Maria performed when she won a contest this year, the Fontana di Malme.’ ‘The great thing is we’ve stayed in touch since the programme,’ says Maria, ‘And Tamara knows she’s always welcome here.’

For UNDP, one of the main aims behind the film project was to address the lack of training available in the country for NGOs in the production of social content in the media, while also developing capacities to produce local content that reflects the rich cultural diversity of the country.

‘This was a really important initiative for helping promote cultural diversity in the country—now and in the long-term,’ says UNDP’s Gregory Connor. ‘All of the people involved, including professionals from all different sectors, will be taking back with them new approaches and new skills in using social content in the media. I’m confident this means we’ll be seeing ever more effective use of media in the country to send out positive messages about tolerance and diversity—messages that will succeed in countering some of the negative stereotypes that are too often portrayed.’