At 8 o'clock on Saturday night we, the makers of the documentary Afghan Star, were presented two awards by the good people of Sundance. Two hours later the most popular breakfast radio show in Kabul was breaking the news to sleepy locals -- it was the first time an Afghan film had made it to Sundance, let alone won both the World Cinema Documentary Audience and Directors award. The people of Afghanistan were over the moon.
The film is an observational doc following a local TV series by the same name: Afghan Star. Similar to American Idol, this is a TV music talent search, complete with judges, desperate contestants and their own Ryan Seacrest, Daoud Seddiqi. Of course this is more than just a TV show: with the background of Taliban repression and seemingly endless conflict this is a struggle and a bid for freedom. Singing has become the youth of Afghanistan's weapon of choice and everyone involved -- contestants and producers alike -- put their lives on the line as each show is broadcast. This is terrifyingly clear when a young woman dances on stage as she sings. All hell breaks lose and while she fears for her life, the series fears for its future.
Our film, a British and Afghan co-production, is not a glossy documentary -- you try that in a war zone -- but it captures the spirit and energy of the country and reveals the true desires of the young people who make, watch and contest in Afghan Star. When you consider that 60% of the population is under 21, then you see just how important it is that they are listened to as well as the so-often corrupt and war-ridden old guard.
It is a joy to all of us that the judges and audience of Sundance could feel and comprehend the importance of the Afghan Star series. Voting for their favourite star with cell phones is the first time many many people have encountered democracy. The idea that a man, a woman, rich or poor, old or young and of any ethnic group has an equal voice is an incredible thing in a tribal elder society. Understanding that to lose a vote is not a personal insult to your clan that should be revenged is huge step. And the reinvigoration of Afghanistan's musical culture (all the songs are afghan, many traditional reaching back to 7th century poetry) is just bloody brilliant.
We the director & producers are all over the moon about the Sundance reaction. But we are even happier that the country is so proud. At last Afghanistan can be famous for something more than war and terror.
Havana Marking -- Director/ Producer
Jahid Mohseni, Saad Mohseni, Mike Lerner, Martin Herring -- Executive Producers.