Afghan Star [Import]
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Afghan Star, the Sundance-award-winning documentary by Havana Marking, provides powerful evidence of how pop culture succeeds despite repression. The film chronicles the American Idol-like television show that premiered in 2005 on Tolo TV, an independent channel in Afghanistan that has capitalized on the restrictions lifted on music throughout the country in 2004. Afghan Star, as a television phenomenon, attracts up to 11 million viewers per episode, making it clear that it symbolizes more than a superficial pop music competition. Marking does a wonderful job of splicing political facts in among footage following four exuberant final contestants, Setara, Rafi, Hameed, and Lema, who range from ages 19 to 25. Footage of urban ruins, tattered flags, and life in poverty are carefully woven in with interviews and profiles of these singers that each explain how music is a sign of freedom to their people. Tender personal moments, such as Lema in the salon getting her make-up done, or Rafi wondering at a gorgeous tiled mosque, provide real glimpses into a mysterious world. While the focus is on the television show, many scenes unfold on the streets abroad, such as one at the Kabul Zoo, where the "only pig in Afghanistan" resides. Humor abounds throughout to illustrate a human resilience that transforms a simple pop-song competition into a political race. Each contestant, as a resident of differing regions, campaigns with posters and more to not only garner votes but unite the warring peoples of their countries. In one segment, the Tolo TV head of production explains how high the stakes really are in a country where people are finally allowed to vote with their cell phones, in relative safety. Moreover, there is added drama when one singer shows her hair and dances on stage. Straying slightly off course to follow her story, one learns of the life-threatening dangers she faces for what Americans would consider a basic right. Once one eventually begins to understand how controversial Afghan Star is, it's astounding that this documentary was made at all. Not to mention, the music throughout this startling movie is fantastic. All the more reason to support Afghan Star and the freedom it symbolizes. --Trinie Dalton
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Filmmaker Havana Marking's startling documentary, "Afghan Star," grapples with both Big Questions and---along the way---she shows us scenes we'd never imagine here in the U.S. The documentary covers the debut season of an Afghan network TV clone of "American Idol." You can chuckle at the quality of make-shift Afghan pop culture---such as it is after years of the Taliban and warfare. This new pop culture often is pretty basic stuff. Before one "Afghan Star" production, for example, the documentary cameras take us back stage to show the Afghan network-TV crew toggling together what looks like a jumbled pile of scrap electrical components they've found to run their lights and cameras.
But ... You'll sit there through the whole thing fascinated by the window it opens into this mountainous country where we've been at war for so many years. I came away from the film deeply worried for the future of women and young people in Afghanistan. But I also came away greatly encouraged at the bravery and creative spirit of these young men and women delivering "Afghan Star" into families' living rooms whether they own big Kabul homes---or they're wiring a makeshift aerial on the roof of a mud hut in the mountains.
Maybe Americans could learn a few things from the grassroots campaigning Afghans eagerly wage for their stars on this hit TV show! Unlike "American Idol," there's very serious campaigning underway in Afghanistan. One reason is that the entertainers are chosen from across the country and represent many different ethnic groups. So Afghans from children to old men crisscross their regions, handing out simply made posters and handbills--urging Afghans to pick up their cell phones and vote for regional singers. It's amazing footage. Every American civics class should show "Afghan Star" to teach our youth something about the infectious power of democracy.
We're not alone in recommending it. The film already has received praise from Oprah, Jon Stewart and the Sundance film festival among others. Enjoy it with friends.
The Afghan people are a strong bunch who have survived way too many years of wars. A lot of their hardship could have been avoided if foreign powers had not meddled so much with the country and used it as a battlefield for a proxy-war.
This film shows us how the Afghan people want music and desperately wish to express themselves democratically. The bravery of women participating the Afghan Star contest is astounding. In a country where people think its o.k. to kill a woman just because she danced a bit on a stage, I found this movie remarkable.
The film is very honest, shows us exactly how life is in Afghanistan and is very accurate in expressing the feelings of its people towards this new 'American Idol' type contest.
Just a few decades ago, Afghanistan was a not-so-bad place. A lot of Western backpackers used to go there...
I can see Afghanistan is still a very conservative country. Poor Setara, her life is in danger just because she uncovered her hair a little bit and danced to music!
This is a good film. I like their music ~ the secret of my heart is coming ~
How come some of the Afghans can speak good English? I thought the education system was lacking there.