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Boris Miljković, Creative director of Serbian National Television (RTS)

No Room To Create The New

Boris Bota Miljković’s artistic video works have been exhibited at New York’s MoMA and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston

Boris Bota Miljković (born 1956) graduated in film and television direction at the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Dramatic Arts. During the 1980s, together with Branimir Dimitrijević Tucko, he authored numerous television shows and films. He is the author of a large number of award-winning television commercials and music videos (for legendary ex-Yu bands: Laibach, EKV, Idoli etc.). His artistic video works have been exhibited at New York’s MoMA and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston.

Boris Miljković’s video installation ‘The Media Opera’ was presented in Paris’s Sorbonne University at the beginning of 2000, while Belgrade’s Republic Square provided the site for the constructed is his installation ‘Belgraders’, composed of 1,600 portraits of random passersby exhibition in a labyrinth.

He’s directed theatre plays at Belgrade’s National Theatre and Atelje 212, as well as authoring six books of short stories and a novel.

During the ’90s Boris Miljković was engaged as a creative director at Saatchi&Saatchi and McCann Erickson in Cairo, Sofia, Ljubljana and Belgrade, while today he works as creative director at Serbian national television company RTS and lectures at the University of Art in Belgrade.

As half of the famous ‘Boris & Tucko’ tandem (Branimir Dimitrijević & Boris Miljković), you were responsible for the new wave of Socialist Yugoslavia, leading to pages being dedicated to your work in both English publication ‘NME’ and France’s ‘Liberation’, while you also received an MTV award for your video for the group of Laibach, as well as the most important award in the world of advertising, the Clio Award, which you won for an advertisement in the publication Komunist. Do you consider yourself as being among the most familiar with that exciting time?

I have mixed emotions. On one hand, considered a knowledgeable person is a compilation, while on the other hand, it implies someone who has lived through a long period. 

Boris Miljković, Creative director of Serbian National Television Company RTS

I’d prefer to be less acquainted with the situation and for us to have had more opportunity to work. It seems to me that we’ve entered a time in which there isn’t enough space to create something new, because that which Tucko and I did is expensive.

Today we are dealing with the consequences, with collateral damage, one of which is familiarity with the possibilities. I am trying, from a position of familiarity with the possibilities, to create a kind of brand that will take us back to the past through the series “Way to the Future”, with the desire and thesis to envisage our future. Like a psychiatrist who doesn’t know what will become of his patient, I turn towards the past. We lived and still live in turbulent times, so this experience has proved quite useful to me.

You say today that you were insolent back then…

That is absolutely correct. The two of us received some micro-scholarships that was still enough to provide us with financial security. And due to the fact that we were good students, our then professor Sava Mrmak also invited us to get involved in television. And it was then that the two of us came up with the idea of changing the world. Because you consider that to be totally realistic when you’re 20.

Back then television was a house with open doors for artists from various provinces, where you could encounter an entire encyclopaedia in the corridors. And in such company, it would have been a pity to miss out on the opportunity to learn something from all those people. And we learned! We stuck a foot in the doorway and said – here if there’s someone better than us you find them, while we meet all the criteria. And the fact is that there wasn’t much resistance…

Like a psychiatrist who doesn’t know what will become of his patient, I turn towards the past. We lived and still live in turbulent times, so this experience has proved quite useful to me

To what extent can young people today be ‘insolent’ and follow your example?

If we’re talking about television, young people today aren’t inspired by television. In contrast, television acts as if it doesn’t need even the most ordinary artists, let alone talented ones. It’s as though it produces something by itself. That which produces itself is referred to by medicine as a tumour. And young men are full of rebellion.

I couldn’t agree that young people aren’t insolent today in that sense. It’s just that this insolence reflects in a different way. It seems to me that, as time passes, some of the theses born in 1968 – the thesis of a better world, changes, social equality, rebellion etc. – have relocated to some other forms or other areas. Young people today are more interested in the impression that IT can elicit. They are interested in being visible, but via channels and completely different media.
It is also lacking in consideration to suggest that young people are interested only in money.

That’s not the case at all. Young people are interested in the money the least, especially if we compare them to my generation. Young people have already shifted the world – here I mean with social networks, for example. Innovative young people are interested in good working conditions, in being able to sit for 20 hours in an extraordinary environment and demonstrate their know-how in their own eloquent way. And if they aren’t given that, if they don’t recognise that chance, that will be a great loss for the whole society. They have a need to experience new horizons, new perspectives, to feel as though they are part of a larger and wider community.

And if they are denied that, if the state closes off that perspective to them and moves in the direction of wars, hatred and similar things, those young people will seek their own place elsewhere. The question of what we will then do in a country of the elderly is another matter.

During the peak of your career, at the end of the 1980s, you left for Cairo and revived your personal history, which you would later recount in the documentary film “Sugar Factory”.

I initially went to Cairo with my then-wife and newborn son, led by a sense of adventure. That was in the midst of the projects of Tuck and myself, which brought us our first earnings. I headed out with those savings in the hope of checking out some stories from my family history.

My father had lived in Cairo during World War, II and it turned out that the then ambassador was a family friend and a relative of my then-wife was in Cairo on some Yugoslav works of the time. That naïve story would change completely in just a few months because in those few months open conflict broke out in Yugoslavia, and I received signals that, if I didn’t have any better deal, I shouldn’t bother returning.

I soon became the regional creative director of the Saatchi & Saatchi agency in Cairo and, as things turned out, opened the second chapter of my life.

It seems to me that, as time passes, some of the theses born in 1968 – the thesis of a better world, changes, social equality, rebellion etc. – have relocated to some other forms or other areas

During that time, one of the biggest campaigns you did was for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism under the production of CNN and a huge budget of Ted Turner. That ended, however, as a kind of counterpoint of life…

Even during those years, a careful observer could notice that conflict buried deep in Egyptian society. 

Boris Miljković, Creative director of Serbian National Television Company RTS

On the one side, they strongly desired to progress, to get involved in some other world, in this case, the Western world, while on the other side loomed the appearance of softly veiled hard Islam. For that region and that time, this was very bold advertising that showed a woman riding, revealing all her charms and beauty. And when the campaign started, CNN and Turner had a very powerful media plan, but at that moment several related terrorist attacks occurred and immediately created great caution regarding tourism in Egypt. However, at the same time, all foreigners in Egypt were specifically protected. My family and I were protected with great devotion, even though they knew that in my home country a bloody war was underway and that in that war, in their opinion, Islam was fighting against Christianity, even though they knew I was not Muslim.

Father is a word that has multiple and multi-dimensional meanings in your life. You even once said that you didn’t learn anything from your father …

I endured a childhood in a family with a father and mother in which there de facto was no father. I was lucky that my mother was a very intelligent, educated and witty woman. However, the father’s colourful personal history: a royal officer, a British airman, and later a dissident prisoner on Goli Otok… A man who spent his whole life trying to fly again – that was for me, both as a son and a young man, very challenging. When I said that I didn’t learn anything, I meant that he had tried all his life to pass on a lot of things to me, and I never managed to either understand or use that… Back then.

You are a father of four. They are of different generations, with two of them already adults. How did you raise them and how will you raise the younger ones?

Yes, my oldest son is 27 and my youngest is a year old. One would presume that I’ve learned a lot about raising kids. However, as is usually the case, with every new challenge we learn everything from scratch, from the start. My two older children are following in my footsteps. My son is a director and my daughter is in her second year of studies in directing. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is for them to see. However, for now, we are laughing.

Boris Miljković, Creative director of Serbian National Television Company RTS

We will also have to wait and see what will happen with two younger sons. However, we mustn’t forget that in the first place they have their mothers, who are very interesting women from whom they will have a lot to learn, just as I learned from my mother. Now I recall the words of Duško Radović, who very accurately defined our mentality – mother is the forename and father is the surname. I understand that as a mother being the one who wipes up and raises on a daily basis, while a father should provide an ethical and philosophical motto that defines all of that.

It seems to me that we’ve been brought to a plain where things roll around thanks to their inertness and where it is very difficult to survive those 24 hours in which we live

In your working biography, there are many of what you refer to as “collateral” interests. Thus, in 2013 emerged your KUVAR [COOKBOOK], which has a subheading that reads “What a young artist can learn from an advertiser, a machine, a fool?”

I’m like “The Harms Case”. I’m becoming collateral to myself. You initially think you’re a director because that’s what you completed in your studies, then life teaches you various collateral skills. I would personally prefer to have a single occupation and to be the best of the best, rather than having many other interests that I struggle with; I want to offer a message and be part of something. And on the other hand is the obligation for a man to feed his large family. As such, I will adjust as life carries me.

When all of this is collated, because that’s a rather imposing pot in which all those experiences have bubbled, then in one moment it crossed my mind to write down all of that experience. Listening to various people, I came to the conclusion that the very concept of art cannot be pushed into some niche, and that it isn’t a bad thing for a young painter to learn how to present himself to the public, for a young director to learn how to select an advertising campaign, or for a young sculptor to learn about special effects for film. That would be a special, creative kitchen of the 21st century that I wanted to establish here.

You became the creative director of the National Television of Serbia, RTS, around ten years ago. What does being the creative director of the national television company entail?

After many years and many life experiences, I was invited precisely ten years ago to create the Eurovision Song Contest event in Belgrade, and with that began “my slow return home”. The concept I proposed was accepted and I became the creative director of Eurovision. The Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade was a glorious success, rated as one of the best ever, and the part that I did on behalf of the BBC was declared the best to date. And thus I returned to television in the form of a creative director.

In contrast to being the creative director of an advertising agency, here I’m responsible for much fewer things than I should be. I’m responsible for the visual identity of the entire story and the smoothness of the overall visual impression. That may seem minor, but it’s actually a huge job. It was challenging to create, from a rather ruined TV station of the ’90s, a highly watched urban television that should represent the TV broadcasts of a respectable Serbia. Now, to paraphrase Dejan Mijač – whatever Serbia is like so is its TV. We can’t have a television station that’s a lot better than we are.

How much is your budget a limiting factor in the implementation of your ideas?

The budget is certainly a limiting factor. And all issues related to money are limiting. If money was the one who’s supposed to speak, it probably wouldn’t have anything smart to say. I believe wholeheartedly in Disney’s motto that suggests you can do everything that you are able to imagine. It seems to me that we’ve been brought to a plain where things roll around thanks to their inertness and where it is very difficult to survive those 24 hours in which we live.

In the context of the existing television offer in Serbia, where is the place today for the definition you adopted from the BBC: Our duty is to improve human life through information, education and entertainment! What does that look like in practice?

Yes, I did indeed adopt that BBC definition and would like to have taken on that goal. And in practice, here at RTS that looks better than on other television stations, though other television companies aren’t public service broadcasters. We are really fighting here to bring this huge idea to life to the greatest possible extent.

However, it increasingly seems to me that we are making this television programming at a very strange juncture – a juncture in which it could be said that television isn’t at all important. Television today creates some menus of its own that you can use to make your lunch from whatever you want. On RTS that’s RTS PLANET, where everything exists together, including radio and publishing activities. Today it’s become very unusual even to define a public service broadcaster, let alone to give it tasks. Your question is very good, but from the flow of this conversation, it seems to fall out of context.

At RTS I mostly deal with culture, but that has nothing to do with the influence it has. It can prove completely invisible on RTS but is viewed on YouTube, shared via social networks, commented on through various platforms. And then you wonder whether there’s even a need for television to exist and for it to be a source of information. I tell you – it doesn’t!

People interest me in all of their entirety. From the unbelievable evil they are capable of creating and that is also mythical, to the unbelievable goodness that we are able to witness almost every day

You have returned to the beginning of your television opus today by again establishing new formats on RTS. That includes the auteur serials, as you’ve called the documentary narratives “Road to the Future” and “My Personal Stamp”, which recount the history of the country in new, modern forms.

That’s right. I enjoy working in certain forms. I find joy in producing. However, it seems to me that television hasn’t said everything that it has to say. And in that search for a new form, I came upon this documentary narrative that is actually divided between two approaches.

On the one hand, the camera records what we see, while on the other hand the audio doesn’t support it and poses some new questions. So we get a new form that cannot be labelled as a documentary because it is not a document. Nor can it be said to be a subjective vision of objective reality. Some bastardisation, some cross-breed, and it seems to me that this is an authentic film format. They emerged from my thesis that history emerged out of countless private histories. And what I talk about is my private history, because at no point do I say that this is precisely how it was, rather than this is how I saw that event. The places are authentic, the artefacts are authentic, but the context, so to speak, has been dreamt into existence.

Is that a kind of testament for the generations of young people who know almost nothing about their more recent history?

I am lucky in that I remember plenty and that I lived in many different turbulent moments of our country, and I simply have a need to help the children who should travel to Skopje, Zagreb, Ljubljana etc., to grow their wings and be able to fly over that area that is now referred to as “the region” as though flying over their own homeland. They have a right to that, and no political party or president can take that away from them. That’s a right that a cultural space offers to its citizens. And it will not force on us either Cyrillic or Latin scripts.

Boris Miljković, Creative director of Serbian National Television Company RTS
Boris Miljković (left) and Tucko, 30 years ago

It will not force on us either frescos or oil paintings. It will not forcibly take from us Gorgon (art movement in Zagreb) or SKC (Students’ Culture Centre in Belgrade). That will become the legacy of this area, because all of this that we’re talking about didn’t only evolve in ‘the loop of the No.2 tram’ (Belgrade’s elite central hub), rather it grew from the permeation of a cultural space that was bound by the same or similar languages, the same or similar cultures and cuisine. And the point of the entire “Road to the Future” series is to establish continuity that counters our desire to tear everything down and start again from scratch every 20 or 30 years. And this isn’t only in art, rather we start all over again with ethical principles.

That which we shat on yesterday, we love today. That which we loved 30 years ago, we ripped apart today. That’s a schizophrenic template in which it’s difficult to grow.

You once said that Serbs are Serbia’s best brand. And that also seems to be part of your creative opus… Which creative form do you consider as being the best for its branding?

What I meant when I said that is that we are not composed of hills and valleys, but rather of people. You can’t be proud of a mountain pass, a sinkhole or a stream. They emerged because they emerged. That which is interesting and can be spoken about is people. That’s why I’d rather talk about people than mountain peaks, meadows, flowers and birds. People interest me in all of their entirety. From the unbelievable evil they are capable of creating and that is also mythical, to the unbelievable goodness that we are able to witness almost every day.

And if you ask me – I cannot say precisely what this thing is about people, but I can quote, for example, Mića Danojlić, who says that the Serbs are known as a nation that wants to share everything it has with those who have nothing, but the trouble is that it has nothing… He is both ironic and witty, and he elevates that poverty of ours, praising and scolding simultaneously. That which I think should be spoken about are shortcomings and not virtues.