Though it seemed that a woman running for the Afghanistan presidency would never be more than a fantasy, as it was in Samira Makhmalbaf’s 2003 drama “At Five in the Afternoon,” the reality is played out in “Frontrunner,” D.C.-based documaker Virginia Williams’ solid report on Dr. Massouda Jalal’s 2004 bid for the country’s top office. Having finished second in the 2002 election for an interim prez (won by current head Hamid Karzai), Jalal’s earnest campaign proves serious if somewhat quixotic, with Williams’ cameras catching much of the action. Global tube sales look like a slam dunk.
Tracked through the months-long effort, Jalal is shown developing into a confident candidate with a little tweaking from European media handlers who try to remain culturally sensitive. Though she stresses that she’s not merely a women’s issues candidate, Jalal — a medical doctor and mom — frames her policies in a maternal tone, which makes her untenable to male traditionalists. If Williams fails in her account, it’s in explaining Jalal’s stances beyond vague platitudes of “healing” her war-ravaged nation. Election day polling-place snafus will be all too painfully reminiscent for Yank viewers.