WESTERN countries arent the only ones obsessed with singers and the competitions that breed them. Afghan Star runs on a similar format to the popular US show American Idol , with 2,000 contestants participating each season. The phenomenon, which started in 2005, is the subject of a documentary by Havana Marking that recently screened at the Human Rights Film Festival in London. Under Taliban rule, music was banned in Afghanistan entirely. Now an estimated one-third of Afghanistan watches the show on a weekly basis, texting in their votes for their favourite contestants. The show is produced by Tolo TV and broadcast to 14 cities in Afghanistan. Marking told the Economists web version Intelligent Life, I see this as positive change. Its helping to create a music industry in a country that until recently did not allow music at all. Now there are outlets. And I really do believe in the power of music; its a powerful medium for healing. Everyone in Afghanistan knows someone who has died recently, in horrible ways. [Music] is helping heal some of that, by giving them a break. Markings descriptions of Afghanistan, and its bombed out buildings (three bombs went off in her first week there), paint a bleak picture of the prospects of life in the country. Its obvious that contestants face more dire problems than criticisms from judges about their vocal range. In addition to their everyday struggles, they also must endure death threats from fundamentalist. For instance, Lima Shahar, the woman who received third place in the third seasons competition, was forced to hide in Pakistan. At Sundance, Markings documentary won both an audience choice and a directing award. The film follows contestants of the show for three months prior to the third seasons finale in Kabul. Unfortunately, the citizens of Afghanistan wont be able to enjoy the documentary. Its been banned, because in it Marking interviews women. PM