Sunday, January 18, 2009

Note to self: don’t dance in Afghanistan!

From the World Documentary Competition comes Afghan Star by first-time director Havana Marking. Once again Sundance delivers with an engaging documentary that I would likely not have seen if it weren’t for the festival.

Afghan Star follows several contestants as they compete in Afghanistan’s answer to American Idol. I got a lot from this film. First, if you want to feel really grateful to be living here in the U.S., see this movie. For a bunch of reasons, this film inspires gratitude for what you’ve got. Other Things I learned from this film:

  • Religion really needs to get over the relegation of women to second-class citizens. This show confronts the issue in startling ways. But it also reminded me that we in the U.S. still have a long way to go before religion and the rest of society put men and women on equal footing.
  • Don’t dance in Afghanistan. In the not too distant past music, dance, and TV were outlawed in Afghanistan. And they’re still really freaked out by the dancing. When one of the female contestants gets voted off the show, she sings her final song and dances without a scarf covering her head. The reaction is beyond belief. Her fellow contestants are horrified as they watch the performance back stage. And that’s just the beginning. Religious and government leaders are incensed and even men from the woman’s own region call for her death. Yes, I said death! It was hard to watch some of these scenes.
  • Even Afghanistan has a bad music fashion history. Before the religious radicals took such a strong role in Afghanistan, the placed looks surprisingly European, complete with 80s bands wearing clothes that would embarrass even the most embarrassing American fashions from the same decade.

This movie is a little rough around the edges, but when you consider it was just the first-time director and a photographer who captured the story, it’s understandable. If you get the chance, see this show. As Americans, I think we need to be more aware of how difficult it can be to live in other parts of the world.

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