October 4, 2007 / 11:07 PM / 12 years ago

Studio acts to shield child stars of "Kite Runner"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The studio behind “The Kite Runner,” a film about Afghanistan’s turmoil, has arranged to get its three young stars out of their homeland before the movie debuts to protect them from a possible violent backlash.

The U.S. release of the film, based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini, has been delayed by six weeks to December 14 to ensure the 12-year-old Afghan boys are out of harm’s way by then, an executive for Paramount Vantage said on Thursday.

The extraordinary precautions follow months of shuttle diplomacy and other preparations by the film studio to address concerns about the film’s depiction of one boy’s rape and other scenes of conflict between rival Pashtun and Hazara tribes.

Worries about the well-being of the young actors have escalated as the level of security in Afghanistan has deteriorated in the months since the film was cast and shot, said Megan Colligan, a marketing chief for Paramount Vantage.

Although opinions as to the film’s potential for inciting ethnic violence vary widely, “we feel an obligation to put the safety and security of those kids first,” she told Reuters.

The studio, a division of Viacom Inc.-owned Paramount Pictures, hired a former CIA officer to assess the risks facing the child stars while enlisting a human rights worker to serve as their “minder” and liaison between the studio and their families.

“The consensus was we should take them out of the country until this blows over,” said John Kiriakou, the ex-CIA counterterrorism operative, who interviewed about two dozen Afghan politicians and others on behalf of the studio.


All three child stars — Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, Zekiria Ebrahimi and Ali Danish Bakhty — were schoolboys with no previous acting experience who were discovered by the film’s casting director in Kabul.

The boys, each accompanied by a family member, will likely leave the Afghan capital, Kabul, at the end of October, more than a month before their school year ends, and travel with a tutor to the United States for several weeks, Colligan said.

Arrangements have been made for the boys to then go to the United Arab Emirates, where they probably will remain at least until March, when the new school year begins, she said.

By then, the film will have been released in theaters around the world. Although no commercial exhibition is planned for Afghanistan, the studio assumes that bootlegged DVD copies will make their way into the country.

If a perceived threat to the youngsters persists beyond March, they will be permitted to remain in the UAE indefinitely, Colligan said, adding, “They’re not going back to Kabul unless they want to go back.”

The movie, which screened on Wednesday at the Chicago Film Festival, was directed by Marc Forster, whose credits include critical hits “Finding Neverland” and “Monster’s Ball.”

Like the 2003 novel, “Kite Runner” explores Afghan society over three decades, from before the Soviet invasion through the rise of the Taliban, focusing on the friendship between Amir, the son of a wealthy Pashtun, and Hassan, the Hazara son of Amir’s father’s servant.

In one controversial scene, Hassan is raped in an alley by a Pashtun bully. A third character, Sohrab, is later forced to perform an erotic dance by a corrupt Taliban official.

Ahmad Jaan Mahmoodzada, father of Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada who plays Hassan, has said in media interviews that he was not informed about the rape scene until just before it was shot. The producers dispute this, saying he was told about the scene well in advance and consented.

The rape scene, though conveyed impressionistically, is considered inflammatory by Afghan leaders Kiriakou interviewed, though no one in Afghanistan has yet seen the film, Kiriakou said.

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