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Afghan Star (2008)—AfghanistanAfghan Star (2008)—Afghanistan

During decades of oppression under the Taliban, music and dancing were banned as immoral, but this fascinating documentary records the resurgence of pop culture in Afghanistan by looking at a single television show. And it's not just any television show; it's a carbon copy of "American Idol" called "Afghan Star" that's produced by Tolo TV. And just like in the west, the show is a cultural phenomenon, with over 11 million people (a third of the country) casting their votes by cell phone for their favorite performers. Director Havan Marking takes us behind the scenes of the television production, into dilapidated halls for auditions in a half dozen cities all over the country, and onto the streets for interviews with ordinary people about the controversial but popular show. But in this show art is politics, and it's fascinating to see how one contestant in particular risked her life by what she did on stage. Most of the film follows four finalists (two men and two women), three of whom are from different tribes — and so pop culture might even be a force for national unity. In Afghani with English subtitles.

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