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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