The Kite Runner
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SCENE STEALER: ‘The Kite Runner’

By Ron Magid, Special to the Times

In Afghanistan, kites are more than a hobby, they’re a national sport. Afghan kites don’t just fly, they dance and battle. The kites are flown on “cutting” lines, called “tar shiasha,” or strings dipped in ground glass designed to sever opponents’ lines during dogfights.

So when director Marc Forster was preparing to film Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel “The Kite Runner,” he realized the book’s central metaphor of kites soaring, fighting and falling to earth would not translate if his young lead actors (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as Hassan and Zekiria Ebrahimi as Amir) couldn’t fly a kite with total conviction.

Forster was looking for a kite specialist but found someone who also knew Afghanistan circa 1978, pre-Russia, pre-Taliban, pre-U.S. Basir Beria is a world fighter kite champion who makes and sells his own kites and “tar” from his North Hollywood Smokehouse and Magazines shop. “I was 8 years old when I built my first kite,” Beria says. “From that day, I eat kites, I drink kites, I walk kites.”

The Afghan native, who says he was imprisoned and tortured by the Russian KGB, injected his history into his kite-fighting choreography, and inspired the actors and extras to battle with intensity. “The philosophy of fighter kites is ‘I own the sky until I cut everybody or someone cuts me,’ ” Beria told his students. “I always say, Shorto paneer. I’m going to cut you like a cheese.” (Phil Bray / DreamWorks)
Beria designed Amir’s simple, diamond-shaped kite after “the popular kites we used when we were kids.” The artist shaved bamboo supports and used bright red, green and black tissue paper,echoing the Afghanistan flag. “The top moon-shaped bamboo bar is the muscle of the kite,” he explains. “You can tell if it’s a good macho kite by the curve of the chest.” (Motion Picture Artwork)
It takes two to fly an Afghan Fighter Kite: one to release the kite, which can whip off at 16 mph, and the other to hold the spool of glass-coated line, which can weigh 9 pounds or more. “The kids’ body language had to be right when we had close shots of them and the kites together,” Beria says, “or professional kite fliers can see it’s fake.” (Phil Bray / DreamWorks)
Forster wanted to see as many as 400 kites fighting in a single shot. When Beria arrived in Kashgar, China, which doubled as Kabul, he was given just three weeks to train 150 native kids, ages 9 to 12, to fly fighter kites. (The rest were added digitally.) “For a week, I just showed them how to dance with the kite. Then they followed my moves.” (Phil Bray/ Motion Picture Artwork)