Jun

12

AFGHAN STAR
A film by Havana Marking
Review by marion d.s. dreyfus

"A fantastic documentary about a talent competition in a country where you would never dream such a thing is possible." - Oprah Winfrey, May 2009

Winner of the Directing and the Audience Awards at Sundance Film Festival (2009 World Documentary Competition).

In Afghanistan, under the Taliban, you risk your life to fly a kite, let alone indulge in singing or dancing. Fun is pretty much outlawed. But after 30 years of war and five devastating years of Taliban domestic terror, pop culture is beginning to inch back-since 2005, millions of Afghanis are tuning in to Tolo TV 's wildly popular American Idol-style series "AFGHAN STAR."

Like its Western counterparts, people compete for cash prizes (and the sibling tow-along, record deals). Surprisingly, the contest is open to everyone across the torn and rugged country, no matter gender, ethnicity or age. The 'out tribes' and out of favor Islamic sects get a chance to compete, and 2,000 people audition, including three unimaginably brave women. When viewers vote for their faves via cell phone, it is for many their first encounter with the democratic process.

Winner of the Directing and Audience Awards at Sundance's 2009 World Documentary competition, Havana Marking's timely and poignant film follows the hairpin stories of four finalists-two men, two women-as they hazard everything to become the nation's favorite performer. For the women competing, especially, their independence and temerity has fierce consequences that ricochet far beyond the contest in the film. Observing the Afghani people's relationship to its emergent pop culture, "AFGHAN STAR" is an unexpected window into a country's tenuous, ongoing struggle for modernity. What Americans consider frivolous entertainment is nothing short of revolutionary-and deeply human-in this troubled shard of the world.

This is Director Havana Marking's first feature documentary; she earlier directed "The Crippendales" (2007)- a 30-minute film about the first troupe of disabled strippers, which won the UK Channel 4 scheme for New Talent. In 2005 she made "The Great Relativity Show," a series of animated shorts that explained the Theory of Relativity; these won the Pirelli Science award. Before 2005, as a TV producer, she worked on some of the most successful UK programs and films: The F Word, Michael Palin: Himalaya, River Cottage, No Going Back, War On Terra - What Would Jesus Drive? Havana is a respected journalist with articles printed in the Guardian and Observer. Redstart Media is her own production company. UK/Afghanistan . 87 minutes.

marion d s dreyfus 20©09


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4 Comments so far

  1. Steve Leslie on June 12, 2009 11:58 pm

    In honor of the 20th anniversary of the miniseries Lonesome Dove, it will be broadcast on AMC http://www.amctv.com/movienights/lonesome-dove/

    We recently ran a thread a few months back on Westerns and it was reviewed on this site. If you like westerns it is not to be missed.

    If you want to take the other road, I strongly recommend the book by Larry McMurtry an incredible writing performance.

    I just left the theatre after viewing The Taking of Pelham 123. I will reserve review but if you are interested visit www.rottentomatoes.com I am not sure on whether I enjoyed the movie or not. It definitely had enormous action, with excellent work by Denzel and John Turturro however I felt John Travolta's character was a bit over the top. Tony Scott directed the film who is noted for Enemy of the State, Deja Vu Man on Fire, Crimson Tide, Days of Thunder among others. So if it is action you want you will find it here.

  2. vic niederhoffer on June 13, 2009 2:40 pm

    I have always found the writings of McMurtry those of a bookseller who has read everything about the subject and tries to create a sponge of what he's read. Also, very self negating and hateful of the things he writes about. Reminds me much of Michener's later works that were written by bevy of students. Completely unlike Lamour who wrote with topographical maps and lived the life he wrote about and the other naturalist, Jack Schaeffer, whose short stories about the west are so much the best I've read of the genre, along with Louis Lamour's. I've been told however, by some liberals I know, that McMurtry lived in the area he writes about and the terrain he writes about from his book store actually existed. vic

  3. Steve Leslie on June 13, 2009 8:55 pm

    Chair I defer to your vast compendium of knowledge of westerns. I would be at a distinct disadvantage to debate you on this subject bringing a dagger to a swordfight. You may be a bit harsh on McMurtry. With respect to McMurtry, I find it interesting that he is a true Texan raised and educated as I read in wikipedia. He won the pulitzer for Lonesome Dove which is a legitimate award unlike other awards. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_McMurtry. Of his other works such as Cadillac Jack I found quite inferior to Dove. Schaeffer as written in the past here was a Cleveland born and Oberlin College educated and he wrote of his love of the west from his perch in NY and Connecticut. It did not diminish his great work Shane. Who can argue with Shane anything else would be heretical. I concur I love him and L'Amour. No secret of their success here. L'Amour a N. Dakotan 105 works and 89 novels all still in print. Lets just say that each deserve their own special acclaim. No need to split hairs here.

    Interesting commentary on Michener. a great intellect who chose to have researchers do the bulk of his writing in his later years. Never read Texas however.

    I will say in Dove that the development of characters is stunning, and the lineup of actors is a who's who in American Cinema. Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Chris Cooper, Glenne Headley, Rick Schroeder, Angelica Huston, Diane Lane, Barry Corbin, Frederick Forrest, D.B. Sweeney. Robert Urich.. That is some fast company there. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096639/fullcredits#cast

    One last point back to McMurtry. The Last Picture Show came out in 1971 and I will never forget Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow. My best friend carried a picture of Ms. Shepherd in his wallet for years of the impression she made on him. Much too much to handle for a youth as he and I were in those days. http://www.dailyspeculations.com/wordpress/?p=3850#comments

    One last comment, Who can forget Hud a largely overlooked Western when it comes to memorable. Time to have a long and drawn out thread on Westerns I am thinking. And then a thread on voyages Patrick Obrian comes to mind.

  4. Siturir on August 10, 2009 11:21 am

    I very much liked seeing this post, it’s very clear and well written. Are you considering posting more about this? There is fodder here for more posts.

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