10/02/2013 10:21 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Popcorn Preview: The Network

Film: The Network (2013)
Writer/Director: Eva Orner (Taxi to the Dark Side)
Genre: Documentary | Mostly in English, some in Pashto with subtitles (97 minutes)

"We went to this public execution... they brought this young guy into the stadium... he was accused of killing a relative." It's a difficult memory for Ahmid. "The judge talked about Sharia law... restore justice... forgive him or kill him." After the young guy was shot in the head, "he made a purring sound... like a cat... while he lay dying." Ahmid can't get that memory out of his head. "That had become the only entertainment in the city. There was nothing else." Under the Taliban, "the whole country was dying slowly and didn't know it." There was no media... no way to know what was happening anywhere. If someone in the neighborhood had a hidden antenna, the neighbors created a secret network for accessing what limited media they could find. But it was very dangerous.

2001... "People couldn't believe the Taliban could finally be defeated." This was when many families returned, including the Mohsenis. The flights into Kabul were literally standing room only. They kissed the ground when they arrived. But what they found was a country that had returned to the middle ages. Kabul wasn't at all the cosmopolitan city it once was. When the Mohseni family learned they might be able to get help from USAID, they felt one of the biggest needs was a free press. They had been a business family and knew nothing about media, but their application was approved. In 2004, they had their first radio test broadcast. Within 10 minutes the whole city knew about it. A year later, they decided to go from radio to television, because they felt TV would be an agent of much needed social change. They were right, but it was a lot harder than starting a radio station. "If we knew it was so complicated, we might not have done it," says Massood. Problems with finances, electricians, transmission towers... even just the basics were monumental. The foreign TV producers they hired were a big help, but they often had to educate employees on fundamental issues, such as conflict resolution. But that said, the Afghanis were eager to learn. Their make-up artist, for example, used YouTube for her training... and has become quite a pro.

If you've ever wondered about the Afghanistan you don't see on the news, this film will give you great insights. It's by no means exhaustive. But when you spend time with a TV network, you definitely see a wide range of people, situations and issues. It's an engaging and well-made documentary, but it's not a story that has a beginning, middle and end. The Tolo network reports news, makes dramas, has call-in shows and a popular on-the-road show. A lot has changed in Afghanistan... and a lot hasn't. Some women no longer cover their heads... some still wear burkas. "My husband is my 2nd God," says one. Yet, Afghanis are resilient and resourceful when given the opportunity. Life is still very difficult, and the film cannot show us how the story ends. The biggest fear is what happens when the foreign forces leave. There are constant reminders that the Taliban is still there. "In Afghanistan, one day everything is fine. The net day it's different." After all the hard work, even Massood isn't sure the new Afghanistan is going to be a success.

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
The Taliban took Afghanistan back to the dark ages; a TV network hopes to inform, enlighten and heal some of the wounds

Popcorn Profile
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Primary Driver: Convey information
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative

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