Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NZ International Film Festival: Afghan Star

The first time many young Afghan’s had ever voted was by text vote for Afghan Star, a Pop Idol-esk TV show on the endearingly modern Tolo TV: think TVNZ in the 80’s with less pastels. In the West these shows tend to have contestants that burn with the naked greed of celebrity, people you’d cross the street to avoid, but as we catch a glimpse of each Afghan contestant’s hell on earth set in a bombed out urban mud background, their wide eyed drive for existence beyond such a nightmare gives this doco a gravitas Simon Cowell fails to deliver.

The Taliban weren’t big fans of art and banned dancing and singing which to a people as fond of the song as Afghans are based on the near hysteria the show caused in the country seems a bizarre and hateful form of torture the Taliban meted out to their own people. After such a cultural genocide, singing goes beyond musical expression, it in itself becomes a brave resistance to such terminal ignorance and the Afghan people leapt to the show with an enthusiasm reserved ironically for invaders meddling in Afghanistan.

The songs of the finalists are all originals, memorable lyrics were, “The people yearn for reconstruction”, “I want to be famous” and my personal favourite, “The bend of your eyebrows are like a scorpion”.

Scandal erupts near the end of the finals when one female contestant starts dancing a little during her song. A male contestant denounces her actions as not dear to the Afghan people, and the horror expressed by one of “what is she doing” as 21 year old Setara leaves the competition with a performance where she dances much more than she previously did sums up a shocked people. The public response was like Footlose meets Sharia law, the man on the street was explaining how her dancing effectively made her a ‘loose woman’. Nice to see that double standard sexism is a global movement, but a glorious 1980s Kabul University new wave electro band music video fronted by a singing short haired Afghan woman complete with neon pink shoulder pads reminds us that Afghanistan wasn’t always the stone aged hell it’s been bombed into with 1980 street shots showing women freely walking around minus Burka. The Ullema Council, a religious Islamic Council focused on repressing good times leans on Tolo TV to stop the dancing, but they courageously push onwards. A great doco.

3 and-a-half Stars

Afghan Star
Afghanistan/UK 2008
Director/Producer: Havana Marking

No comments: