Review: Afghan Star DVD

STUDIO: Zeitgeist | DIRECTOR: Havana Marking
RELEASE DATE: 3/30/2010 | PRICE: DVD $29.99
BONUSES: director’s interview
SPECS: NR | 88 min. | Documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | stereo | English, Dari and Pashto with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The 2009 winner of Sundance’s World Documentary Directing and Audience Awards, Afghan Star offers a fascinating look at Afghanistan, a country that everyone’s certainly familiar with but that very few know much about. And the focus revolves around … a TV show.

Created in 2005 after a decade-long, Taliban-enforced restriction on music and dancing was controversially lifted, the television show Afghan Star, like American Idol and its other Western predecessors, features contestants who take to the stage and compete for a monetary prize and recording contract. The competition is open to everyone across the country (that’s right — women, too!), and allows viewers to vote for their favorite performers via mobile phone, marking many of the citizens’ first-ever experience with a democratic voting process.

London-based documentarian Havana Marking’s first feature-length documentary looks at the third season of Afghan Star, zeroing in on four finalists, two men and two women, as they enter the final weeks of the show’s performing, judging and voting, which is frequently fraught with tension and danger, as well as happiness and glory.

Through the TV show, Marking presents as clear a portrait as we’ve ever seen on the country and its “personality” — its hopes, problems, traditions, tragedies, triumphs and strives toward a modern lifestyle.

At one point, a young fan reasons that “if there is no singing, then the world would be silent.” We wish it was that easy, but that proclamation, the TV show and this remarkable film are a good beginning.

An interview with Marking is included on the DVD.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.