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Setara Husseinzada in Afghan Star

Afghan Star's première brought the jaded indie filmmakers to their feet in a cheering ovation, and won both the Best Director and Audience Choice awards at the week-long Sundance Festival.

The director, Havana Marking, takes an irreverent look at the collision between feminism and fundamentalism and paints a surprisingly light-hearted portrait of the country that will be the Obama administration's most serious foreign policy problem.

"Our movie is a revelation, not a revolution," insists producer Jahid Mohseni, and he's right. It pulls aside the veil of war to reveal the witty, engaging, sometimes hilarious inner world of Afghan society.

Guns and Taliban are scarce in this film, a sharp contrast to the grim machinery of destruction I've been watching from choppers and armoured 4x4s on my visits to Afghanistan over the last few years. Instead, Star is all about pop music and twenty-something singers trying to make it big. Like Slumdog Millionaire, which swept the screen awards, Star is set in a TV game-show format. Both films feature gritty third world settings, sympathetic characters and the deft handiwork of quirky British directors. And both films hit hot-button issues with a hammer.

The film spotlights the ethnic fault lines that fracture Afghanistan as deeply as caste divides India. Star also causes major heartburn for the mullahs. Hold on to your turbans. As the film warns early on, "Music was considered disrespectful by the Mujahideen and sacrilegious by the Taliban." Havana Marking says that she handled the risks of threats of violence and kidnapping "with spontaneity and energy in our on-site filming" - evident to the viewer - and also with armed guards, unusual equipment for documentary film-makers.

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