Review – AFGHAN STAR (Havana Marking, 2009, UK)

AFGHAN STAR || 2009, UK || Documentary || Directed by – Havana Marking / Produced by – Martin Herring, Mike Lerner, Havana Marking / Music by – Simon Russell / Cinematography by – Phil Stebbing / Editing by – Ash Jenkins / Running time: 87 mins.

afghan-star-posterHavana Marking’s Afghan Star gets its title from the Afghan version of X-Factor; a reality TV show in which participating contestants are given an opportunity to become their country’s music star. While the Afghan version of the TV show is very similar to that of its “Western” counterpart, the strict moral codes of Afghanistan also make them crucially different from one another.

The director takes her camera to document the tensions that arise from the clash between modernity and tradition that the show represents. But she does so primarily by following ordinary people’s intimate lives and as a result by drawing up an outline of the atmosphere of the country.

Despite the outline implying a certain lenience towards a “Western” type of concept of freedom, and an endorsement of “Western” popular culture – i.e. capitalist morality – the film far from exploits the more traditionalist aspects of its cultural context and the culture of the setting it portrays. The music itself, performed and played during the show’s taping and in the outside, everyday world, is part of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. Therefore, for instance, when we see a girl get into serious, life-threatening danger for simply singing and dancing at the same time – especially on television – the upsetting aspect that is implied and emphasized is the tragedy of a young girl being forbidden to express joie-de-vivre through the products of her country’s own historical heritage, such as music, dance and art in general are. – 4/5

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