'Kite' stirs up an int'l melting pot


"The Kite Runner" is a rare creature: a Hollywood-born foreign-language film.

In adapting the best-selling Khaled Hosseini novel, director Marc Forster not only wanted to re-create the book's Afghanistan setting but also sought to make sure he got the same production value as in his other films.

The movie filmed in Kashgar, an old Silk Road town in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. The landscape and architecture matched what the filmmakers were looking for, the locals were game and "you just saw you could shoot 360 degrees and really only change the wardrobe and the signs," said E. Bennett Walsh, one of the producers on the film.

The international crew mixed it up with the local ethnic group, called Wigars, as well as the Chinese, all of whom had different perspectives on how to make a film.

"The Wigars are used to doing local TV dramas; the Chinese are used to local films," Walsh said. "Until they see how you do it, their point of reference and quality is different. So what was amazing to see was, after a week or two of filming, everybody came up to what Marc wanted to get."

Although Kashgar is only 50 kilometers from Afghanistan's border, it took three months to secure visas for the Afghani actors. Ten thousand extras were hired and outfitted. Four hundred beards were made for a scene where two people are stoned in a stadium.

The signature kite-flying set piece required 200 kids to be trained in kite flying, despite the fact that when the scene was shot, none of them actually flew one since the kites were later added digitally. The sequence took 10 days, required 50 rooftops and "a lot of walkie-talkies and a lot of translators," Walsh said.

The production became a melting pot, with call sheets in four different languages — Mandarin, English and the Afghani dialects of Dari and Wigar — and mealtimes led to three catering lines, for Muslim, Chinese and Western foods.