Afghan Star

In Afghanistan, you risk your life to sing

Directed by Havana Marking

After Taliban rule and three decades of war, pop culture has returned to Afghanistan. A Pop Idol-style TV show scours the country for the next generation of stars. Over 2,000 people – including three women – come forward to audition

But in a country like Afghanistan, music is dangerous. Considered sacrilegious by the Mujahideen and banned outright by the Taliban, music has come to symbolise freedom for youth. While the conflict still rages, many of those taking part are literally risking their lives.

This documentary follows the process from the regional auditions to the final in Kabul, offering behind the scenes and unprecedented access to the lives of contestants, fans and producers.

The film follows the lives of several contestants, but the star is Setara, a 21-year-old woman from Herat. Her modern fashion, Bollywood makeup and desire to dance draw adoration from young girls, and condemnation from elders. When she makes her moves onstage and lets her headscarf slip – all hell breaks loose…


Afghans unite to cheer their brave new stars as The X-Factor comes to Kabul. A TV talent show that challenges gender, tribal and religious boundaries is transfixing the nation’s people – and antagonising religious scholars  The Observer

Entertaining Afghan Star looks at the titular American Idol-like TV show, hugely popular yet also a magnet for criticism — including death threats — from those who think its Western-style pop frivolity an affront to Islamic law  Variety

The winner of the directing prize and the audience award at Sundance’s world documentary, Afghan Star, is an informed and entertaining dispatch about the collision of culture, ideology and history that ultimately suggests a darker, more rueful Afghan Slumdog Millionaire Screen International


  • Winner, World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary, Sundance 2009
  • Winner, World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary, Sundance 2009