A female contestant performs on Afghan Star.

A female contestant performs on Afghan Star.

Film follows change in Afghanistan via singing contest

After 30 years of war and five years of Taliban rule, Afghan Pop Idol is sweeping the nation. But this is more than just a TV talent show: In Afghanistan you risk your life to sing.

This is the subject of the documentary film, Afghan Star, which will be presented by Amnesty International Vernon for its annual Human Rights Film Fest May 9.

“This film won at Sundance two years ago, and has been featured on Oprah. It is sure to please audiences in Vernon,” said event organizer Lee Brinkman.

“Reality TV is very popular and in Afghanistan it’s no different. But what we consider frivolous entertainment is revolutionary in Afghanistan.”

Since 2005, millions have been tuning in to Tolo TV’s wildly popular American Idol-style series, Afghan Star. Like its western predecessors, people compete for a cash prize and record deal.

More surprisingly, the contest is open to everyone across the country despite gender, ethnicity or age. Two thousand people audition, including three extremely brave women. And when viewers vote for their favourites via cell phone, it is, for many, their first encounter with the democratic process.

Amnesty International has long been concerned about the human rights situation in Afghanistan, said Brinkman.

“Access to health care, education and humanitarian aid is deteriorating, particularly in the south and south-east of the country, due to escalating armed conflict between Afghan and international forces and the Taliban and other armed groups,” she said.

“Afghan women are increasingly participating in politics and public life, but continue to suffer from high rates of domestic violence with little recourse to legal protection. While access to education for girls and women has improved considerably since the Taliban were ousted. Girls in rural areas continue to face intimidation, harassment, threats and attacks on them and their schools.”

Afghan Star, viewed by 11 million people per episode, is a catalyst for change.

“It’s giving its many viewers a hope for a more democratic and peaceful Afghanistan”, said Brinkman. “And it’s very interesting to see the country try find a balance between very old ways and modernity.

“Please plan on attending this Amnesty International Human Rights Film Fest and prepare to experience cinema with a social conscience.”

Afghan Star will be shown at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Monday, May 9 at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation. The film is rated PG.