LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a year in which most films dealing with conflicting world cultures have failed to excite moviegoers, the makers of "The Kite Runner" hope to win audiences by bridging the divide of race and ethnicity.
The movie, directed by Marc Forster, debuted in major U.S. cities last weekend to mostly good reviews and solid ticket sales, which is far better than other films covering topics dealing with the Middle East, Central Asia, war and politics.
On the list of box office failures this fall have been "Lions for Lambs," "In the Valley of Elah," and "The Kingdom," but those films addressed dark subjects and despair.
Forster, whose past films include the drama "Finding Neverland," said "Kite Runner" offers something different. It tells of an Afghanistan emigrant to the United States whose spirit is redeemed after a boyhood failure in his home country, and redemption is universal to all cultures.
"I really hope people carry away from the movie that it humanizes that part of the world," Forster said of the film's setting in Afghanistan before and during the Taliban's rule.
"Kite Runner" is based on the best-selling novel of the same name from Khaled Hosseini. The movie became the focus of huge media attention this fall for a controversial scene in which one boy is raped -- an unspeakable crime in Afghanistan and one in which the victim is often ostracized or harmed.
Movie studio Paramount Vantage delayed its release and shielded the boys who starred in the movie from a possible backlash by arranging for them to live for a time in the United Arab Emirates where, Forster said, they are now.
The movie shifts between Afghanistan in the late 1970s when the Soviet Union invaded the country and modern-day United States, where expatriate Amir now lives with his father.
As a boy in Kabul, Amir's friend Hassan was raped, and soon the two were no longer talking. After Amir moved to the United States, the two lost touch and as an adult, Amir wants to return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to make amends.
"The Kite Runner" title refers to kite fights the two boys once enjoyed in the sky over Kabul.
"Kite Runner" explores complex relationships within the Afghan expatriate community, and delves into the culture of Afghanistan, offering Western audiences a glimpse at life both before and during the Taliban's rule.
"I hope the movie can give a face and voice to a country that's been in the news for three decades, and create an emotional connection beyond culture or race," Forster said.
Hosseini told Reuters the movie was "my baby" and said, "it was a very emotional experience to entrust something dear and precious" to another storyteller -- in this case, Forster.
The director enlisted Hosseini's help in creating a sense of authenticity, and Forster made risky choices such as using non-actors and Afghan children in the key roles, which by Hollywood's standards could hurt the film at box offices.
Scenes of Kabul were filmed in western China where the look of the old city -- now largely changed after years under Soviet and Taliban rule -- could be replicated. But doing so meant moving expensive equipment and a large crew to a remote area.
So far, those decisions seem to be working. The movie was nominated for best foreign language film at the Golden Globe Awards and is considered a viable candidate for Oscars.
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Eric Beech