The Network: Film Review
Eva Orner's documentary profiles Tolo TV, Afghanistan's first independent television network.
Afghanistan has come a long way from the recent past in which public executions were, as one interview subject in The Network comments, “the only entertainment in the city.” The changes are clearly illustrated in Eva Orner’s documentary about Tolo TV, the country’s first independent television network.
Founded in 2004 by four siblings of the Mohseni family who had fled to Australia during the country’s communist rule, the network now employs over 800 Afghans and provides diverse programming including news, drama, comedy, music and lifestyle shows. One of its board members is former Viacom CEO Tom Freston, who describes founder Saad Mohseni as “the Rupert Murdoch of Afghanistan.”
This largely laudatory portrait is largely composed of interviews with Tolo TV executives and employees and clips from the network’s various shows, making it at times resemble a promotional video. But while it fails to delve deeply into the more complicated issues regarding the network and its role in modern Afghanistan, it does provide a vivid overview of its operations.
Among the clips on display are scenes from a soap opera; an Afghan version of Sesame Street (one executive points out that since so many Afghans are illiterate, the show attracts as many adults as children); and On the Road, the first Afghan television travel show.
The latter show figures in one of the documentary’s more compelling revelations, concerning two Tolo employees who failed to return to their native country after traveling to New York City to film a program about the United States.
Afghanistan’s endlessly complicated political and social dynamics are illustrated via such shows as Eagle 4, a large-scale police drama that happens to be sponsored by the U.S. Embassy; Afghan Star, a talent competition in which female contestants are now allowed to perform without head coverings; and a call-in show in which a psychologist gives advice to women, many of whom are suffering from spousal abuse.
Needless to say, operating the network in Kabul is not without its risks. Suicide bombings are prevalent, and the company’s office was caught in the crossfire during the 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy. The network has been forced to employ a large security detail in the face of constant threats.
The Network suffers at times from its one-sided perspective, with little to no commentary from outside observers. But it nonetheless delivers a vivid portrait of the groundbreaking network, as well as sounding cautionary notes about its future survival as the United States prepares to withdraw its military presence.
Opens Sept. 27 (FilmBuff)
Production: XYZ Films, Corniche Pictures, Nerdy Girl Films
Director/screenwriter/producer: Eva Orner
Executive producer: Hani Farsi
Director of photography: Abazar Khayami
Editors: Luis Lopez, Darrin Roberts
Composer: Mark Rivett
Not rated, 97 min.