Festival Updates: AFGHAN STAR

Faith Salie interviews AFGHAN STAR director Havana Marking and host of ‘Pop Idol’ in Afghanistan Daoud Seddiqi. INTERVIEW is presented by Honda, the Power of Dreams.

DIRECTOR: Havana Marking
Afghanistan/United Kingdom, 2008, 87 min., color
Afghan-Persian with English subtitles

After 30 years of Taliban and wartime rule, pop culture is creeping back into Afghanistan. Director Havana Marking has captured it in this inspired documentary, Afghan Star. An American Idol–type contest set in Afghanistan? What more intriguing inroad into a region usually represented in our news media by death and violence?

To understand the magnitude of this film, we must look at the facts—two-thousand contestants compete for a chance to be the next Afghan pop idol. Three of them are women. In an unheard-of precedent, all genders, ethnic groups, and age sectors are equal. More than one-third of the country watches the show and votes with text messages. For many, this represents their first encounter with any kind of democratic process.

Marking follows the dramatic stories of four of the contestants over three months, from regional auditions to the finals in Kabul. All is not safe for her subjects because they must actually risk their lives to sing. In a larger sense, we get a glimpse into the ongoing struggle of a country trying to segue into the modern world and the dangerous underpinnings its citizens must navigate. Though moving and inspiring, what is really brilliant about AFGHAN STAR is that by observing a people’s relationship to pop culture, we get a different, if not more human, look at this troubled part of the world.—JOHN COOPER

ExP: Mike Lerner, Martin Herring, Saad Mohseni, Jahid Mohseni Pr: Havana Marking AsP: Sandra