'Kite Runner' delayed over fears for child stars' safety

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The Independent Online

Fearful that the child stars of The Kite Runner might become targets in their native Afghanistan, the Hollywood studio producing the film has pushed back the release date by six weeks to allow the boys to finish their school year before being spirited out of the country for their own safety.

The film, based on Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel, hinges on a life-changing boyhood incident, which is seen as culturally inflammatory. Amir, the narrator and a privileged member of the Pashtun tribe, witnesses the sexual assault of Hassan, his Hazara servant, best friend and kite runner, the boy who races to retrieve the fallen kites of opponents after contests.

Not only is the rape scene a potential flashpoint, but there are also fears that the film could aggravate simmering tensions between the Pashtuns and the Hazara communities.

"I don't think anyone could have imagined when we undertook this movie that we'd be dealing with a country that has disintegrated to the degree that Afghanistan has done," Rebecca Yeldham, one of the film's producers, said.

Although The Kite Runner will not been screened in Afghanistan, given that the Taliban destroyed nearly all the cinemas, movies do make their way into the country via pirated DVDs. So concerned was Paramount Vantage, the art house arm of Paramount Pictures, by reports reaching it from Afghanistan that it sent a retired CIA operative to spend 10 days in and around Kabul, assessing the risks to the boys from Afghans who might be angered by the film.

Last month the father of Ahmad Khan, the boy who plays Hassan in the film, spoke of his worries that the rape scene his son had filmed might have dangerous repercussions for his family, from social isolation to torture and even murder.

The former spy's recommendation was that the children should be temporarily removed from their homeland until enough time had passed to determine the population's reaction to the movie. "Even the slightest suggestion of risk we need to take very seriously for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that we really care about the boys," Ms Yeldham said.

The film version of the book that put Afghanistan on the literary map was due to get its Hollywood premiere on 2 November, but the release has now been pushed back to 14 December. When the teenage stars finish school on 6 December, or perhaps earlier according to some studio executives, they will go the United States and take part in the publicity tour. Then it will be off to the United Arab Emirates until the end of March.

"That time frame will give us the opportunity to assess the risks," said Megan Colligan, the head of marketing at Paramount Vantage. "They will each come with a family member as guardian, and we will provide a tutor."

The film's director, Marc Forster, whose previous hits include Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, was keen to have an authentic Afghan feel to the film, and went into Kabul schools to find talented youngsters. So do the film's producers regret that decision? "We always strove to adapt the book in the most authentic way and to do justice to the culture at the centre of it," Ms Yeldham said. "We consulted with scores of Afghans every step of the way because we were entering uncharted waters. Could we have foreseen the events that transpired over these last weeks? No."