Afghan Star

Director: Havana Marking

Institute History


After 30 years of Taliban and wartime rule, pop culture is creeping back into Afghanistan. Director Havana Marking has captured it in this inspired documentary, Afghan Star. An American Idol–type contest set in Afghanistan? What more-intriguing inroad into a region usually represented in our news media by death and violence?

To understand the magnitude of this film, we must look at the facts—two thousand contestants compete for a chance to be the next Afghan pop idol. Three of them are women. In an unheard-of precedent, all genders, ethnic groups, and age sectors are equal. More than one-third of the country watches the show and votes with text messages. For many this represents their first encounter with any kind of democratic process.

Marking follows the dramatic stories of four of the contestants over three months, from regional auditions to the finals in Kabul. All is not safe for her subjects because they must actually risk their lives to sing. In a larger sense, we get a glimpse into the ongoing struggle of a country trying to segue into the modern world and the dangerous underpinnings its citizens must navigate. Though moving and inspiring, what is really brilliant about Afghan Star is that by observing a people's relationship to pop culture, we get a different, if not more human, look at this troubled part of the world.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards


As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]