"Kite Runner" prepares for takeoff at box office

Thu Dec 6, 2007 12:38am EST
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By Steven Zeitchik

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The young stars of "The Kite Runner" may have been moved to a secret location after receiving death threats, but now the tricky part really begins for the film's distributor: Packaging a foreign-language movie with weighty themes and no stars as a mainstream release.

The DreamWorks production, which is being released through Paramount Vantage, the Afghanistan- and U.S.-set tale opens Friday in limited release before expanding during the coming weeks. And it poses one of the most fraught challenges of any movie this fall as Paramount Pictures' specialty division tries to turn what was an unlikely best-seller about friendship and ethnic strife into a big-screen blockbuster.

Hovering over it is a Vantage release from earlier in the year, "A Mighty Heart," which took on a similar part of the world with more obvious commercial elements (Angelina Jolie and a ubiquitous Mariane Pearl) but earned just $15 million at the box office.

The result has been to make "Kite Runner" a marketing anomaly, with the company taking a grassroots approach that has focused on elements most major rollouts ignore.

It has hosted dozens of screenings for book clubs and in the heartland (literally, in the case of the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis); has embraced an unusual publicity figure in Khaled Hosseini, who wrote the book on which the movie is based; and thrown fundraisers with Afghani expats.

Vantage has embarked on its campaign with a dearth of TV spots and trailers. "The English-language portions of the film don't lend themselves to clips, and the Dari (language) will put some people off, so word-of-mouth is all you have," said one executive with knowledge of the campaign.

Or as an executive at another studio said: "The only thing you can do with a movie like this is screen the hell out of it."

In a way, Vantage was put in this position because of circumstances beyond its control. Eager to avoid the wide release of "Mighty Heart," the company planned a slow burn for the Marc Forster picture, with "Kite Runner" slotted for an early November opening and then carefully rolling out through year's end.   Continued...

<p>Director of "The Kite Runner" Marc Forster attends the premiere of the film in Hollywood December 4, 2007. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>