SXSW | Interview with Eva Orner, “The Network”

Posted by Valentina Valentini on March 14, 2013 at 2:20 am

SXSW | Interview with Eva Orner, “The Network”

Did you know there was a really successful network television station in Afghanistan? Yea, neither did I.

Eva Orner is known for opening America’s (and the world’s) eyes to the torture practices in the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay with her producing credit on Taxi to the Darkside. With her directorial debut on The Network she gives us all another peek into a life and a business that most people don’t know exist. Like me.

The Network is set behind the scenes at Afghanistan’s largest and most successful television station, TOLO. In a country where until 10 years ago when the Taliban still ruled, any form of entertainment was banned and television was illegal, television has become the dominant form of entertainment and social change. What’s even more amazing is that the transition from radio to TV there took only four or five years, whereas in the US it took decades. But like one of the Mohseni brothers (the founders of TOLO) says in the film: “If we knew how hard it was going to be, maybe we wouldn’t have done it.”

I was able to have a chat with Orner at the festival and learned a little bit more about the spunky, go-getter filmmaker that she is, and also delve a little deeper into stories from the film.

This is such an obscure story to most, what was the impetus for telling this story?

After Taxi to the Darkside and the plethora of films that we made about the war and the impending withdrawal, there was this positive story about Saad [Mohseni] and his family. I felt that was worth looking back at, since there havn’t been too many successful campaigns in Afghanistan and there’s lots of corruption and criticisms, but there was this one big success for the country.

A friend had mentioned the story to me and I did a bit more research and I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to make this!’

What is the experience like going through customs into Kabul?

The first time I went alone with a small camera. I’m pretty brave, but just more foolish I guess. You know, I’m not a war correspondent, that’s not what I do. So Saad said he’d send a car and I emailed him about 20 times about it. He probably thought I was crazy, but you can’t just get into a cab at Kabul airport – look at me, I’m the whitest person ever – I’d be kidnapped or something.

As a woman, once you get to Kabul, chivalry just goes out the woman. People push you and no one helps you with anything. I walked through customs and my driver was there with my name on a piece of paper and he had a security guard with him with a Kalashnikov. Welcome to Kabul.

The second time, if I hadn’t had the insanely lucky coincidence of running into Masood [an Afghani celebrity because of his radio show and part of the documentary] in the airport I would still be in customs and probably never have seen my cameras again.

You address it in the film, but if Westerners are coming in and helping Afghanis create ‘Western’ shows with ‘Western’ values, how is that not considered propaganda?

My favorite part of the film is when Saad says at the end, addressing that very question of whether bringing Western values in to Afghanistan is good: ‘You’ll have to ask me in ten years.’ They’re trying something, they’ve set up a master plan, it’s been copied all across the country and there are now 75 TV stations, they’ve done incredible things for the country. Is it a success, they’re smart and modest enough to say let’s wait and see.

Propaganda is known as a bad word. We think of it and think of Nazi Germany. But look at American cop shows, the great cops, solving crimes…that’s not how it always works in real life, we know that. It’s the same in Afghanistan.

There is a lot of messaging TV there. It’s absolutely propaganda, but I don’t’ think there are any negative messages there, they’re all about education, security, trying to promote change in the country. But is it good? We have to go back to Saad’s answer.



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