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Afghan Star

8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In Afghanistan you risk your life to sing. After thirty years of war and five devastating years of Taliban rule, pop culture is beginning to return to the country. Since 2005, millions have been tuning in to Tolo TV's wildly popular "American Idol"-style series "Afghan Star." Like its Western predecessors, people compete for a cash prize and record deal. More surprisingly, the contest is open to everyone across the country despite gender, ethnicity or age. Two thousand people audition, including three extremely brave women. And when viewers vote for their favorites via cell phone, it is, for many, their first encounter with the democratic process. Winner of the Directing and Audience Awards in Sundance's 2009 World Documentary competition, Havana Marking's timely and moving film follows the dramatic stories of four young finalists--two men and two women--as they hazard everything to become the nation's favorite performer. By observing the Afghani people's relationship to its pop culture, Afghan Star is the perfect window into a country's tenuous, ongoing struggle for modernity. What Americans consider frivolous entertainment is downright revolutionary--and more human--in this troubled part of the world.


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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Setara, Rafi, Hameed
  • Directors: Havana Marking
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Zeitgeist Films
  • DVD Release Date: March 30, 2010
  • Run Time: 88 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0030OJPO0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,903 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Afghan Star" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on April 1, 2010
Format: DVD
Is peace and some semblance of democracy possible in Afghanistan? Is there any value in American popular culture?

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.
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Format: DVD
This movie provides a good reason why the US should not leave Afghanistan before getting the country organized - at least to the point of controlling the Taliban. Yes, its not really a U.S. problem with what goes on in Afghanistan but who else is going to come along and help the Afghan people if not the U.S.A.?

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...
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By peaceforall on September 20, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Afghanistan has been associated with violence, extremism, war, and backwardness for the past 30 years. This refreshing film shows Afghanistan in a new light. Based on the concept of American idol, producers of the Afghan TV station TOLO create a show where contestants from different regions of Afghanistan compete to become Afghanistan's top singer. The film reminds us that Afghans are not different than Americans in their passion for entertainment and competition. Seeing Afghans from different provinces in a friendly competition gives hope to the idea that one day their nation will enjoy peace. Tension is created when a woman contestant gets so wrapped up in her music that she dances slightly on stage. This is one of the most positive films on Afghanistan I have had the pleasure to watch. Take a break from the daily headlines detailing the violence of the war and watch Afghan Star.
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I didn't have high hopes for the documentary Afghan Star, but I really enjoyed it. The story is simple - freed from the Taliban, Afghanis launch their own version of American Idol called Afghan Star. The show becomes a huge hit, with up to one-third of the population watching. More importantly, Afghanis' reactions to the show reveal much about their culture and about human nature.

The documentary focuses on four contestants - two men and two women. All four are interesting, decent people and the viewer cheers for them. Western viewers will probably be most interested in the plight of the women, who must contend with Afghanis' "traditional" attitudes about the proper role of women. One woman - Setara - sets of a firestorm of controversy by dancing and showing her hair during her one of her performances.

Afghan Star is both educational and entertaining. I recommend it.
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