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Review: Afghanistan's first independent TV venture examined in 'The Network'

An unusual inside glimpse of modern Kabul may surprise some viewers, but content and production limits documentary's effect.

October 04, 2013|By Gary Goldstein
  • Saad Mohseni in "The Network."
Saad Mohseni in "The Network." (Handout )

"The Network," Eva Orner's well-intended if rudimentarily told and structured documentary, follows the formation and development of Afghanistan's first independent television network, Tolo TV, by Afghan expatriate Saad Mohseni in the years following the end of ultra-restrictive Taliban rule.

Mohseni, along with his expat brothers and sister, began their Afghan media empire in 2002 with the creation of a popular radio station to fill the nation's longtime mass-media gap. Television was the next logical step and, in 2004, Tolo TV was born. Under the combined efforts of the Mohsenis, an executive staff including skilled expats from such countries as Australia and Germany and a budding group of local writers, producers and directors, the station soon began to provide a vital array of programming that has often helped serve as an agent of change.

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On the plus side, Orner offers views of a more modern Kabul than many outsiders might expect, though the oppression of women in the male-dominated culture still clearly pervades. In addition, behind-the-scenes glimpses of network operations and clips of Tolo's various shows (there's comedy, drama, news, reality and even an Afghan version of "Sesame Street") can be intriguing. A featured trip to New York City by Tolo's travel-show host also adds buoyancy, despite its darker, unexpected postscript.

Unfortunately, though, the film's overall presentation, which also includes straightforward interviews with the Mohsenis and their staffers, feels a bit too cloistered and the subject perhaps too limited for feature-length attention.


"The Network"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. In English and Dari with English subtitles

Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.


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