NYFW: Custo Barcelona Wants You to Go Tribal This Fall (VIDEO)

Apparently, Friday night’s Snowpocalypse didn’t keep the fashionistas or the queens from coming out in droves to see Spanish designer Custo Dalmau strut his signature print and graphic designs down the runway at Sunday’s Custo Barcelona 2013 fall/winter collection.

Known for his flair for the dramatic, Dalmau drew from a bejeweled tribal aesthetic at his show, aptly titled “The Beauty and the Beast.” Inspired by feminine and bionic concepts that brought out “The Beauty” and voluminous materials that catered to Nordic winters to unleash “The Beast,” the designer impressed us with what we like to call very “Aztec chic” designs. Rawrr.

We loved the ornamental embellishments on the ethnic prints–major bling, fringy fling, and peekaboo metallic zing!–on a backdrop of greys, browns, purples and blues.

For the ladies, the show proved to be about sporty comfort with fitted overalls, heavily embroidered short dresses and sweaters, and showing off those sexy backs. We also really dug the drop-crotch pants and trousers complemented with athletic high tops.

And hey, if you suffer from S.S.S. (Sloping-Shoulder Syndrome), have no shame: the brand had a remedy for that this season with its emphasis on ergonomic cuts and volume to the shoulders.

As for styling, this season was all about the matte and matted look for both makeup and hair. With the latter, the female models had what looked like a subtle case of helmet head, accented with a single cornrow. (Very Braveheart. We like.)

But compared to the female ensembles, the men’s collection seemed a bit more daring with its high-collared cuts, bold graphic suits, fringy pimped-out coats, and wool shawls. The average heterosexual American man might give these threads the stink-eye, but we think Elton John would be all over these garbs like nobody’s biz.

So overall, Custo Barcelona’s 2013 collection was beautifully ferocious, with the ladies’ collection stealing our corazón asap. But the menswear? Well, let’s guzzle down a few cervezas and then we’ll talk.


NYFW: Move Over K-Pop, Here Comes K-Fashion at Concept Korea

Despite debuting right off the heels of the K-Pop phenomenon “Gangnam Style,” Fashion Week’s Concept Korea 2013 collective held its own on Thursday night with five new buzzworthy designers…and thankfully, they didn’t play Psy’s freaking song over the speakers.

As the show was running late and the traditional Korean music “gukak” was soothing me into Ambien mode, I was jolted by three fierce and pungently perfumed musketeers flanking my left side. The photogs went ballistic at their presence and publicists kowtowed to their every gesture…all the while, everyone else in the audience, including myself, was like: “Who the hell are these cats?”

At first glance, I thought the chick with the neon orange hair ensconced in Gaga-esque shades was Gwen Stefani and that sandwiched in between her was Vanessa Paradis and a chunkier version of Miss Lawrence from the Real Housewives of Atlanta…but alas, I found out their real identities after the show.

Apparently, the orange-haired gal was a British pop singer named Neon Hitch, and the Miss Paradis lookalike referred to herself as “The House of Cora” (Neon’s glorified makeup artist). As for densely packed Miss Lawrence, honey, I was looking at none other than Malik So Chic, a self-proclaimed “NYC nightlife icon” and “Couture Gayngsta,” who used to be on a short-lived CW reality show called High Society, opposite Tinsley Mortimer. And with that, I guess I better RuPaul-o-gize for my mistake.

But whatevs…let’s get on with the show…

Concept Korea 2013 represented a full spectrum of the cultural crosscurrents facing the small peninsula these days, giving a sartorial and musical bow to the traditional, the globally modern, and the youthfully Americanized urbane.

Kick-starting the show, designer Choi Bo Ko (Choiboko) blended his designs with modern floppy hats, high-collared cuts, and ancient Korean “hieroglyphical” emblems.

Diverging from the angular, form-fitting suits that have been a longstanding trend in Korea, Hongbum Kim (Cres E. Dim) offered some softer looks by introducing cocoon-shaped jackets and tops, along with a flirty blend of masculine leather, feminine silks, and pleated skirts.

For those who prefer a bit of Z-snappin’ fab-uh-lous-ness in their wardrobe, Son Jung Wan gave her designs wings to fly, with divalicious feather-filled sleeve ensembles and vests that were balanced with more conservative neutral tones.

If you’re looking for some sophisticated artsy fartsy in your wardrobe, Lie Sang Bong introduced architectural, industrial prints tempered with curvier silhouettes. His matrixial creations were an eye swirler, for sure, and made you feel like you were scouring the racks of the MOMA Design Store.

But for me, perhaps the most showstopping duds were the hip-hop aesthetics of Kathleen Hanhee Kye (Kye), who apparently watched too many reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as evidenced by her baggy, graffitied two-piece getups. Using a variation of bold colors, she made my eyeballs explode with a totally pimped-out Kool-Aid blue fur coat that I could totally see Kanye West wearing in no time.

So overall, was I impressed with Concept Korea? Well, let me say this: Having traveled to Korea and been witness to girls wearing T-shirts that inexplicably stated “Uncle” and adults wearing the brand name “Hamster Fashion” stitched into their jogging suits, I would say K-Fashion has come a long way, baby, and I’m crazy grateful to see its evolution.


Subway Rant: Keep Your Music in Your Ears, Not Ours!

Every once in a while (okay, maybe more than that), something really annoys us. Often, it’s on the subway, because, let’s face it, that’s where a lot of annoying shit goes down. We’re not talking about blaring headphone seepage or full-body-against-pole offenses — at least those assholes are oblivious. We’re talking about the teenage/early twentysomethings who walk onto the train and treat their cell phones like an ’80s boom box, openly blasting their ditties for the rest of our ears to bleed.


We silently curse them with all our might — perhaps some of us even give them the stink-eye — but in the end, we let them do it, spineless commuters that we are. But don’t give up; there are some creative, harmless ways to stop these subway offenders.

1) Walk up in front of them and shout out: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s SHOW TIME!” and take a crack at your best breakdancing moves.

2) Weakly smile with compassion and offer them your spare change.

3) Wail like a baby (i.e., Oprah’s “ugly cry”) and point at them while rocking back and forth.

4) Go to the nearest pole and start pole dancing with a creepy smile while staring at them the entire time.

5) Strut like a rooster with your hands behind your back and walk around them in circles.

Have you been a victim of these perps? Got any ideas to keep their noise pollution at bay? Have your own subway rant? Please share!


Six Ways Lindsay Lohan Might Spend Her Time in Jail

If only the public humiliation had ended with that Fire Crotch moniker, dear LiLo’s troubles would’ve been so yesteryear. But now that the synthetically swollen-lipped Mean Girl is being sentenced to 90 days in the slammer for probation violation, we’re actually chortling like the Pillsbury Dough Boy (along with Avril Lavigne and that waitress who punched her last week on her 24th birthday). Why? Because Lindsay has been stagnant in a slimy larva stage for way too long while the world waits for her to become a full-fledged butterfly and escape her own Vortex of Suck.

But we’re no fools! Her spending time behind iron bars doesn’t mean she’ll wake up from her Red Bull/Kombucha-induced coma. After all, the fact that she gave the hand to Celeb Rehab and Celebrity Apprentice and said yes to a reality show starring her parasitic doormat of a mother Dina and younger siblings doesn’t bode well. “I want to prove that we are a good, hardworking family and we don’t have the crazy lives that some people claim we do,” Mommy Dearest told the New York Post in late June. Hmmm…going buck-wacky on Fudgie the Whale because you can’t get free ice cream doesn’t sound too normal to us, lady.

Anyway, we’re crossing our fingers that Lindsay will take this short stint of incarceration (word is her 90 days will be reduced to a mere 23) and turn it into something productive and positive for the betterment of her and society.

Here are our top suggestions for LiLo:

1. Develop a unique cornrows look.
2. Create a rapport with her inmates by designing neon orange leggings that match the color of their uniforms.
3. Decide on whether she wants to go part-time or full-time lesbian.
4. Write a memoir on her drug abuse and prison experience and call it A Hundred Little Pieces. Thank James Frey for the inspiration.
5. Devise a plan to ship both her parents to Afghanistan.
6. Create an iPhone app where you play Lindsay as she maneuvers through an obstacle course of bongs and beer bottles to get to Sam Ronson.

Got any ideas? What other ways can Miss Lohan spend her time in the clink?


Project Runway: Ankle Biters Rule the Runway

Forget sleek and sexy and bring out your best Punky Brewster look: It’s back to being a kid again, as noted in this week’s installment of Project Runway. The challenge: Make kids clothes that are fashionable and age appropriate. Yay, the workroom turns into a romper room!

As Heidi ushers the choo-choo train of munchkin models onto the catwalk, the designers realize they’ll have to squeeze their big ambitions into pint-size duds. Of course, there were mixed reactions. Seth Aaron is rocked out over the idea, especially since he’s baby daddy to a tween daughter. However, Jonathan is less than amused. “I am scared of children. I don’t surround myself with children, I don’t have any children…and they are very small,” he says with a frozen look on his face. Even southern belle Anthony is finding it difficult to come up with a crumb-snatching design, as he’s used to creating looks for ladies with junk in places where it counts: “Honey, these girls have got no booties and no breasts, so I’m not exactly sure how this is going to work.”


Nonetheless, off they go to Mood with a budget of $50! As they scurry back to the workroom, Emilio reveals he’s scrapping the idea of putting his signature style into this week’s design and instead focuses on making just a pretty little pink dress. Errr, wrong answer. Another few potential bombs go to Jeneane, who plans on keeping her look super simple and super safe (did she forget why Anna got whacked?!), as well as to the usually aesthetically pleasing Amy, who decides to bring on a circus of color schemes. Everyone rolls their eyes and jabs at Mila when she proudly decides to “go rogue” yet again with her magical color-blocking patterns! Bibbity, bobbity, booooo.

Where Tim At?

While all the designers are busy cutting, measuring, and secretly reminiscing on old Kids Incorporated episodes for inspiration, Jonathan decides to throw in his Michael Kors impersonation in anticipation of the designer’s usual caustic critiques. [Cue angry, nasally interjections]: “She looks like a 7-year-old waitress from Benihana!” And another: “It’s like Memoirs of a Geisha met Barney!”

As Jonathan’s contorting his face in a hideous manner with his impersonations in the sewing room, the other designers start wondering: Where the hell is Tim Gunn?! So much time has passed and his lispy presence is nowhere to be found. And they know what that usually means: A probable twist of fashionable whoop-ass could be headed their way. Oh, and they were righto.

Tim prances in with his signature heavy pauses that make for yummy drama and tells the gang that their designs won’t be walking the runway until tomorrow because (drum roll)…they’ll have to create a corresponding adult outfit by midnight tonight! Ruh-roh!!!

Emilio goes into premature menopause. How’s he going to drape a pink cupcake dress look-alike on an amazonian woman?! Anthony starts fanning himself and calling on the name of the Lawd Jesus as he bizarrely shares stories about his mother’s uncontrollable cough at church. His yapping keeps going on like an old crazy woman, which causes the irked designers to start taking bets on how long he’ll be able to hush up. They tie a piece of cloth over his mouth…and he lasts 14 minutes and 56 seconds! A personal record, he triumphantly admits.

Judgment Day

Aside from the usual suspects, Heidi introduces guest judge Tory Burch into the fray.

After all the strutting and sashaying on the runway by the paired adult and kid models, the judges choose Jay, Seth Aaron, and Jesse as the top three designers and the bottom three as Jonathan, Amy, and Jeneane.

Breakdown of the top three:

Jesse’s design: For the ankle biter, a skewed A-line gray dress with a handsomely tailored red wool coat. For the adult, a sexy tapered gray dress with red lining and buttons with a thick black belt around the waist. Tory Burch says she loved the unusual choice of gray on kids.

Seth Aaron: For the crumb snatcher, a soft pink-black-and-white hoodie with a cute little matching purse, lots of zippers and hardware. For the adult, a Mod New Wave feel to a striking black-and-white striped jacket enclosed by a giant zipper. Kors praises Seth on the hard-edged jacket.

Jay: For the rug rat, a drop-waist dress with ruffling around the hip over denim pants. For the adult, a ruffling top with black in-lining to make it more mature. Nina Garcia calls it a very “New York look.”

Breakdown of the bottom three:

Jeneane: For the wee little bairn, a way-too-simple bright orange dress that’d go for $5 bucks on a back rack at Kmart. For the adult, a badly tailored matching orange jacket. Nina says she hoped for more whimsy, while Heidi calls the kid’s look a “cheap mall outfit.” As for the adult jacket, Kors refers to it as “a home ec project.”

Jonathan: For the little munchkin, a Star Trekkie yellow and white organza dress with odd shoulder cuts and collar, which according to the kid model, was a bit uncomfortable anyway. For the adult, a cotton organza dress, which Kors easily conjectures as “a tornado of toilet paper.”

Amy: For the wascally wabbit, a tonal orange petal skirt and bright turquoise sweater. For the adult, multicolored circus pants that would’ve fit quite well in Cirque du Soleil. Kors calls the pants “a train wreck.” Heidi finds them “hideous,” while the overly composed Burch is turned off by what she thinks is a mismatched color palette.

In the end, Seth Aaron wins immunity (whoo hoo! air guitar!) and high-strung, sentimental Jeneane gets auf’d. Oh well, at least she can finally get that TLC from her boyfriend she’s been whining about.


Isaac Mizrahi Tells Trippy Fairytale Story

Fashion Week ended with a fairytale happy ending, thanks in part to Isaac Mizrahi‘s “Central Park Story Book” fall collection. So what’s it like getting a fifteen-minute peek into the mind of the fashion-forward fairy godfather? Think: the Upper East Side on ecstasy. Elevated bag ladies, fanciful fairies, haute game and wildlife, and samurai warrior princesses floated within a bling’d-out urbanosphere.

For Mizrahi, this year’s fall femme fatale is soft, relaxed, and feminine with a finesse of understated badass–the badass part being especially attributed to his “Society Samurai” chapter, which was inspired by the Met’s Japanese Armour Show.


In terms of “The Look,” the models drifted along the runway with natural muted faces and disheveled tresses pulled back in low ponytails.

Some of our fave accouterments include the fur-fringed hoodies, the kaleidoscopic leggings, the look-at-me! muppetfur coat (a.k.a. Fraggle Rock on acid), the ice-lizard blazer, the foxtail scarves, and the Cinderella glass slippers.

What’s a fairytale without a lil’ bit of romance? Our hearts were in a whimsy during his “Parka Avenue” and “Vagrant Fairies” chapters, particularly when the leafy green cocktail and the sunburnt wanderlace one-piece pranced down the runway. There was also some serious bling action in the designer’s “Fish and Wildlife” chapter, in which we were happily blinded by the set of crocodile dresses that came in tangerine, pinkberry, and diamond.

For the red carpet look, Mizrahi did not disappoint. A number of his “Seven Winter Fairies,” who, by the by, had to weather the faux snow falling from the Bryant Park Tent Heavens, were draped in flowing evening gowns that had lots of poofy drama billowing out at their ends.

When the “Story Book” ended, we dreamily walked out of The Tent, wondering if the fairy godfather would be so merciful to grant us one humble, discounted request. Target, please?


Q&A with Lauren Ambrose (Where The Wild Things Are)

KW photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Lauren Ambrose is a monster — with red hair, of course — in Spike Jonze’s cinematic interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The former Six Feet Under star channels the webbed-footed character of KW with a voice that’s a perfect blend of tenderness, elusiveness, and rebellion in Jonze’s emotionally panoramic and surrealist adventure.

Talking to Ambrose, we found her just as we imagined her to be when we watched her as Claire Fisher: exuberant and sardonic, yet indisputably affable. The Manhattanite took some time out from what she called her “epic press day” in L.A. to chat it up with us via celly about mundane stuff — like being a ginormous furry creature, dodging props in the recording studio with James Gandolfini, and playing Juliet in Central Park.

What attracted you to playing the role of a monster?

(Laughing) That’s interesting that you say monster- — they’re never really called monsters, are they? Well, I was interested in the role because it’s the most epic children’s book of all time that’s been deeply embedded in everybody’s psyche since 1963, and generations of people are obsessed with it — including one of my best friends who has a giant tattoo of Max down her back with a fork in his hand…

And then on top of that, Spike Jonze called and asked me to do it, so that was pretty incredible. It seemed like a no brainer… and I kind of assumed the one who he wanted me to play, ya know? Because she has long red hair. I realize in retrospect that that was kind of irrational, but that’s why he cast me in it. It’s the one I look like — literally.

Were you familiar with the book?

Yeah, I grew up with it and I read it to my kid all the time.

What did you think of the way Spike Jonze translated the book to film?

It’s whatever you bring to it, and I think that’s what’s cool about it. In the book, the illustrations go off the page into the land of the Wild Things. So you wonder how Spike is going to fill in those three particular pages where there are no lines, no words — that’s where the story is. I think the result was beautifully imaginative and creative.

Even the way we worked to make this thing — there was no sense to it. It wasn’t like any other acting job, like you having a sense of the arc or anything; it kind of evolved over time. It was really just about being moment-to-moment with the actors and Spike. He was really physical. I remember the first minute we were recording, we had headbands on and little microphones so we could move around really freely, which is pretty unique compared to how you usually do voiceovers, where you’re confined to the booth. But we were running around like maniacs with props everywhere, throwing foam at each other.

Actually, before I came on, they had a month of doing that — they were running around the woods, they had built sets, slept in piles — they were doing all this stuff that I unfortunately missed, but we sort of did some of that in the studio when I was there with James Gandolfini.

You seemed to have covered so many genres as an actress. Do you prefer one medium over another?

You know, I can’t imagine life that excludes any of them. I work in the theater because I feel like I must, but every medium informs the other. I really truly like being an actor and all the different ways to do that. You pull out different tools… I like Shakespeare a lot so…

Speaking of Shakespeare, what were the most exhilarating parts of playing Juliet in Shakespeare in the Park?

What’s exhilarating about Juliet is that Shakespeare has taken care of her character very, very well. He has her pull out the reins of her life and then zoom toward her doom. She’s so passionate and so incredible. What was exhilarating about my personal experience in playing her was that it was in Central Park. Juliet talks to the elements — she talks to the moon, the stars and the heavens, and the sun — and to be outside under the canopy of stars and speaking that language was definitely the highlight of my working experience as an actor. I feel so lucky to have been able to say those words and play that part in this lifetime. I felt very close to that character.

And finally, this question is for all the die-hard Six Feet Under fans: Do you ever miss playing Claire?

Miss playing Claire? Oh that’s funny, that’s cute. You know what’s really funny, I’m out in Los Angeles doing press right now, and I literally can’t believe I was in L.A. and made that show for so long! Literally, who was that person?! It was a great working experience with great actors, and I liked going to work every day. On the other hand, all I have to say is: We did it. I mean, we really did it. We accomplished it.

(Where the Wild Things Are opens nationwide on Friday.)



Q&A: Michael Moore on Capitalism: A Love Story and Rightwing Douchebags

In Michael Moore’s eyes, capitalism doesn’t just suck — it’s plain evil and should get the hell outta dodge. Love him or hate him, the documentary filmmaker is back with his latest controversial installment, Capitalism: A Love Story, and he’s bringing the political smackdown in a non-partisan way (sucks for you, Senator Chris Dodd). Expect to see the expected — the financial love romp between Wall Strett and Capitol Hill — but also eyebrow-raisers like “Dead Peasant” clauses, the hush-hush life insurance policies corporations take out on you so they can benefit from your demise, as well as an infamous Citigroup memo that congratulates stockholders on the U.S. becoming a “plutonomy.”

Moore took some time out from his media blitz to speak to us about his film, creating a morally-based economy — and, oh, that ACORN pimp and that douche at the New York Post.

In your film, the financial bailout plays a major part in illustrating the evils of capitalism. You also talk a great deal about the death of the auto industry as a result of corporate greed, but make no mention of the auto bailout. How do you feel about it, and was there a reason why it wasn’t included?

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on it because my feeling was that I did that movie 20 years ago. I’ve warned people about General Motors for 20 years. There’s been plenty of time to listen to what I have to say, and no one paid any kind of attention to it, so that was that.

During the auto bailout, I did speak out against Bush’s bailout of GM because he was just giving money to the very people who had caused the crisis, and that’s just the same as throwing money down a rathole. When Obama came in, he fired the head of GM and made certain conditions as a part of his bailout. I support using our tax dollars to protect our industrial infrastructure, because that is something you don’t want to collapse. At the very least you should look at it as a national security issue…

It’s pretty clear, after watching this film, that you believe capitalism to be an evil that can’t be resuscitated. Jay Leno asked you what you proposed as a replacement, and you talked about “getting back to our democratic ideals.” Can you elaborate?

I think we need to stop having a debate about capitalism and socialism because it’s a 16th-Century idea versus a 19th-Century idea. We’re in the 21st Century, and we need to come up with something that’s relevant for what we need right now — and I think we’re smart enough to do that.

We need to convene the great economic minds to figure out how to create an economy that is run by the people — democratic — that has a moral center to it, where the question is always asked before a decision gets made: Is this for the common good? Does it hurt people or does it benefit people? I’m not an economist; I can’t sit down with a piece of paper and structure that. But I believe we’re certainly capable of coming up with a new idea here, and I’m hoping the film will spark someone to think of that.

What kinds of reactions have you been getting from people who have been able to see the film? Any of them surprising?

Well, I’ve seen it with a number of audiences. It’s the most “talking to the screen” I’ve seen of any of my movies. In Pittsburgh, during the scene where the kids are put in that juvenile home, one man started shouting at the screen “Shame! Shame!” People are very agitated while watching the film. The more working-class or former-middle-class the audience is, the more agitated they are.

I’ve also noticed from emails I’ve received that people who consider themselves conservative and voted Republican are coming to see this movie. They may not agree with me politically on a lot of things, but they know they’ve been had. They’ve lost their jobs, they’ve been downsized, they’re behind in their mortgage payments. And in the film — really, for the first time — you see Republicans inviting me into their homes.

Speaking of the right, do you remember the Kyle Smith of the New York Post debacle just recently?

Well, I only know him because somebody told me about him yesterday. He’s the guy that came up to the microphone at the Lincoln Center premiere. He wanted me to denounce Communism. Like most people who write for that paper, he didn’t know a whole lot, and so he made a stupid comment and he was wrong. He doesn’t know his history. I didn’t mean to embarrass him in front of a couple thousand people.

Have you been meeting a lot of Kyle Smiths at your screenings?

No, they’re pretty much dinosaurs. Very few people are into red-baiting and using those kinds of names. The last gaffe was when they tried it with Obama when they called him a socialist and, as we know, that didn’t work. It’s kind of boring at this point.

Just one more aside: What do you think of James O’Keefe?

I’m sure he’ll be going after Habitat for Humanity next, and then when he’s done with them, he’ll probably go to the Rape Crisis Center to expose what they’re doing. My films are about going after people who are in power and who are making life miserable for a lot of people. He and his associates went after the people who are trying to stand up for the poor, who are trying to make things better. The other thing is, just ethically: I don’t use hidden cameras. I think in my 20 years, I’ve done it maybe 2 or 3 times, and they were all on my TV show and even then, it was for comedy. I think ethically people should know they’re being filmed, and plus, I think it’s better for the film. I think the camera in my films becomes its own character, so there’s no reason to hide it.

Before we let you go, is it true that you’re considering leaving the documentary world?

There’s a reference at the end of the movie where I say that I’m not going to keep doing this if people don’t start getting off their seat and do something. Because one guy can’t make this stuff happen. So that’s my challenge to the audience. If I sense there’s a real movement afoot, I’ll keep doing them. But if not, why should I keep banging my head against the wall? So that people 50 years from now can say “Wow, look at him. He was ahead of his time”? A lot of good that’s going to do any of us.

(Capitalism: A Love Story is currently playing in New York and L.A. and hits theaters nationwide on Friday.)



A Conversation With Afghan Star Director Havana Marking

After three decades of Taliban rule, modernity is trickling into Afghanistan–and Afghan Star, Central Asia’s version of American Idol, is at the cultural center of it. The TV show not only invites any age, race, or gender to audition, but also gives citizens a taste of democracy by allowing them to vote for their favorite contestants via cell phone. British filmmaker Havana Marking followed the final four competitors–two men and two women–through the difficulties (and death threats) they encountered while vying for the title crown. The result is the feature-length documentary Afghan Star, a film that illustrates how after years of oppression, a nationally televised singing contest means more than just entertainment to this country–it represents freedom, tangible change, and hope for unity.

We spoke with Marking over e-mail about Afghan Star, the logistics of filming in a war zone, and modernity in Afghanistan.


How did you get involved with this project?

All my life I had wanted to go to Afghanistan. My father had been there in the 60s and the images from that era were just epic. I tried to pitch lots of ideas just to get there. In the process I talked to a British war journalist, and she told me about the new TV series and put me in touch with the local channel owners. I knew instantly that it was a genius idea. I have always loved Pop Idol–(I always cry!) and knew it would be the perfect vehicle into such a complex and extraordinary place.

Was it difficult filming in Afghanistan?

For a foreign journalist doing something “uncontroversial” it was easy to get permission. Actually in terms of getting permits, it was a hell of a lot easier than in the U.S.!

The logistics of filming in a war zone with no guaranteed electricity, flights, etc., made it difficult. Plus, you could only film in safe areas. We didn’t go to Kandahar, for example, where one of my characters was from because it was dangerous for us, but even more importantly, it was dangerous for her to be seen with Westerners. We gave her a handycam, and she was able to film some stuff for us.

Afghanistan is very volatile and problems can flare up in odd areas at any time. There was a warlord who suddenly freaked out in the northwest and so we had to cancel a shoot as his local militia was on the rampage there. He wasn’t Taliban, in fact he was part of the government, so you never knew what was about to happen. Luckily, because we were working with Tolo TV, we had access to all information from their news teams.

Day-to-day it affected us because we couldn’t really plan anything in advance due to kidnapping threats. We just had to turn up and drink lots of tea and hope the person would agree to filming.

From the Afghans you talked to, did you find that the vast majority desired modernity? Or was there a divide between young and old?

The last four generations have grown up in completely different circumstances and under completely different governments. The oldest generation grew up under a liberal king. The next under Communists, the next in a murderous civil war, and the next under the Taliban. Each regime has had a different effect on their psyche, which makes them want different things.

The reason why this is such a fascinating time–with Afghan Star becoming a fault line for this–is that all these different generations and people are trying to work out what they want and who they are. Everyone is pushing and pulling–keeping their tribal respect but trying to figure out how to be modern and be a good Muslim.

What do you want viewers in the West to get from this film?

To humanize and understand the complexities of Afghanistan. It’s not just a war zone.

Afghan Star is playing at Cinema Village.


Interview: Ashanti On Her Starring Role in The Wiz and R&B Kids These Days

“I mean the biggest artists and biggest acts haven’t been selling nearly as much as they used to, too, so everyone is suffering from this recession–it’s hitting everyone.”

One day after we interviewed r&b singer Ashanti about her latest gig as Dorothy in NY City Center Encores! production of The Wiz, Irv Gotti–the chart-topping producer who’s credited for her multi-platinum success–announced plans to drop the “Princess of The Inc.” off his label, claiming lack of chemistry but more significantly, communication. For fans who’ve been following the 28-year-old artist’s career, this move came as no surprise. Tensions between the two were obvious with the production and release of last year’s The Declaration, Ashanti’s first album that was produced sans Gotti. “She’s having her little Janet Jackson Control moment. Every artist has their moment when they feel they need to take over their own music and this is hers,” Gotti was quoted as saying.

Although the album may have been a personal victory for the headstrong singer, it was a commercial disappointment. But Ashanti’s not wasting any time. Besides memorizing lines and stepping into those famous silver heels for The Wiz, she’s also in the midst of recording a new album (the night before this interview, she left the studio at 3:30am). Just like Janet, Ashanti might be in an evolutionary phase, as her ex-producer says. But, speaking over the phone recently, she sounded upbeat when talking about her career’s newest phase.

You seem to have a serious connection with The Wizard of Oz. First, with The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, then the one-night only Broadway performance of The Yellow Brick Road Not Taken, the charity production of Wicked, and now The Wiz. What attracts you to the land of Oz?

I’m looking for the Oz’s powers! [laughing] No, but seriously, it’s just an amazing opportunity. First, to have done something with the Muppets, which was like a wave effect through children, was great. I was so lucky to do it. And when The Wiz came along, it was like “Wow!”–how ironic, but it was a great opportunity for a debut.

How do you feel about playing Dorothy this summer?

It’s a great, great feeling. The Wiz is so historic and prestigious, and to come behind Ms. Diana Ross is a little bit of pressure! But in a good way. My family grew up watching it, and it definitely hits home.

Who’s playing Toto?

You know what’s so funny? I had requested for my puppy to be Toto because I have a Teacup Yorkie named Mimi! [laughing] But it probably wouldn’t be a good idea because she would be running around on stage and following me, not listening to anyone else. But I know she’s going to be jealous–that I know!

You were one of the first major r&b stars of the 21st century. What do you think of the artists–the Beyonces, Ciaras, and Rihannas–currently dominating the genre?

I think it’s great. Girl power! Anytime a young female is successful in doing what she loves, I’m all for it.

Rihanna’s been in the news lately for other reasons besides music.

All I can say is that I wasn’t there. I wish both of them the best. Only they know what happened, and they have to go through it–and that’s about it.

Your latest album, The Declaration, was a personal success for you since you gained so much artistic control. But commercially, it hasn’t been nearly as successful as your previous records. What do you attribute that to?

Obviously, the industry has changed in the past five years. My last album came out in ’04 and things changed internally, label-wise, and it’s very political in this industry. And sometimes you have to just do what you have to do. I love the album. I think the reviews have been the best reviews on any album that I ever put out so it goes to show you it is what it is and it happens. Obviously, it’s not as successful as we all wanted it to be, but I gained a lot of respect from a lot people who’ve said “Wow, the album is hot, and you did it by yourself.” I mean the biggest artists and biggest acts haven’t been selling nearly as much as they used to, too, so everyone is suffering from this recession–it’s hitting everyone.

Last but not least: How are you and Nelly doing?

Nelly’s good! [pauses, then laughs] I just think when you have a career, you have to have balance. You have to have time to put into very different areas [laughing hysterically]. Oh gosh! He’s good, I’m good.

The Wiz runs from June 12 – July 5. Tickets and more info are available at City Center.