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‘Kite’ flies in with controversy

Hot-button films caught in shifting sands

When director Marc Forster hired three Afghan schoolboys to star in “The Kite Runner,” his bigscreen adaptation of Khaled Husseini‘s bestseller, there’s no way he could have anticipated the possible fallout.

But with more and more films, from “Babel” to the much-touted “Kite Runner,” hiring local non-pros to add authenticity to their stories, Hollywood studios are a getting a reminder of the blowback that comes with hot-zone filmmaking.

Paramount Vantage execs last week pushed back the release date of “Kite,” citing fears over the safety of the three Kabul boys who appear in the film.

Pic, which follows the friendship between Amir, a wealthy Pashtun boy and Hassan, a working-class Hazara, spans three decades of Afghan history into the Taliban’s rule.

Amid fears that the boys may be attacked by Afghan tribes offended by an inferred rape scene and other elements in the film, the pic’s release date has been changed to Dec. 14 to allow execs to arrange a safe haven for the boys.

Par execs hope that any furor will have subsided by the time the boys return from a three-month winter break.

“The safety and security of the kids is an issue we are taking very seriously,” says Megan Colligan, head of marketing at Paramount Vantage. “It’s a unique situation, uncharted territory. We have complicated decisions to make. When we put the boys first, it becomes less of a debate.”

There are no plans to screen the film — which lensed entirely in China — in Afghanistan. “Our advisors have told us it wouldn’t be a smart idea to show the film in Kabul,” says Colligan. But Paramount execs are wary of the impact that pirated copies of “Kite Runner” could have after the film is released in Europe. Pic is set to bow in the U.K on Dec. 26.

When New York Times reporter Howard French was on the set of “The Kite Runner” for a week last year, no concerns about the children’s safety emerged. But in January, Ahmad Jaan Mahmoodzad, father of one of the boys, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, began to raise safety and security questions.

According to Colligan, the father feared that his son’s portrayal of a victim of rape — no matter how delicately portrayed in the PG-13 movie — could stigmatize him.

Producer William Horberg says that’s just one of the perils of shooting in such a volatile environment.

“It’s a very different environment from when we embarked on this journey,” says Horberg. “We bent over backwards to make clear the content. Whatever was discussed and agreed to a year ago was not comfortable this year.”

Horberg notes that any movie shot on location in Third World countries poses peculiar challenges.

“It’s not a science, it’s an art, to go into a world not accustomed to any kind of filmmaking. This country is a particularly challenging environment because of the backsliding security situation, the rise of the Taliban and the resurgence of violence over the last two years.”