German-born, Swiss-reared helmer Marc Forster has shot Stateside (most recently “Stranger Than Fiction”) and in Europe (“Finding Neverland”). In bringing Khaled Hosseini’s book “The Kite Runner” to film, he trekked to the high climes of northwestern China and beyond, calling it “the hardest film I ever made.” As he was putting the finishing touches on the film (to be released by Paramount Vantage this fall), he gave Variety a peek into what was involved.
Where did you shoot exactly and when?
“The province of Xinjiang, the western part of China, populated by the Uyghurs, that sort of Muslim part of China. Being based there, we moved to Tashkurgan, a village really in high altitude close to the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan … we also stayed in some yurts for landscape stuff and then moved to Beijing and shot on stages. Then we went to San Francisco at the beginning of December and finished just before Christmas.”
How hard was it to get to the Asian locations?
“We shot in a location where really no film has been shot before, was extremely remote and logistically a nightmare because you have to get everything out there, especially when we started moving into the mountains and other very remote areas. It was a nine-hour flight from Beijing.”
Does the U.S. dollar go a long way there?
“It does and it doesn’t. It’s not as cheap as one thinks because there are a lot of tax issues. But if you want to build things, it’s very inexpensive because of material and labor. But the other stuff, shipping and putting everybody up, does cost.”
How did you negotiate access to shoot there?
“Basically anything you do in China, you need to get permission from the government, from the central government in Beijing. They read the script, they look at the script, and basically they give you the permission to shoot in China and then, once you get that permission, you pretty much have a free hand. But you go to a province like, in our case, Kashkar, you still need to get permission to shoot in certain locations.
“It was difficult because no film has been shot there and we weren’t acutely aware of the tension between the Uyghurs and the Chinese — they’re not welcoming (Westerners) with open arms necessarily, so you’re sort of in the middle trying to figure out how you can utilize certain locations. Ultimately it worked out, but logistically, and just the bureaucracy to get there, was pretty intense.”
Did the Chinese government monitor your set?
“No. Our movie wasn’t about China, it’s about Afghanistan. So they probably didn’t care. But if you make a movie about China, they are (probably concerned about) how you make China look. We were actually the first film shot in China that used China for another country.”
Any language issues?
“We had four languages on set. It’s difficult because you have the Uyghurs that live in that area and the Uyghurs speak Uyghur, the Chinese speak Mandarin, and then you have English, and then you have the cast that speaks Dari. You’re constantly around translators from all languages because the Chinese can’t speak Uyghur, the Uyghur can’t speak Chinese. Some of them couldn’t speak any English, so I always had a translator.”
How was the experience creatively?
“It just was a very special experience. First I was in Kabul casting and then in Pakistan doing some research and then being there in China — every place has something different to offer.
“The interesting thing about Kashkar is that the architecture is really similar to Kabul in the ’70s. It was a fascinating experience and a hard one. At moments you’re so exhausted and so crazy because it’s such an intense experience and so visceral on every level because you just don’t have the resources, and sometimes we were almost running out of film, and we kept shooting on short ends when there was a delay in the (film stock) shipments and because you’re so remote, it’s hard to get (supplies) there.”