Born in Afghanistan in 1965, Khaled Hosseini left in 1976 as his family was relocated to Paris as part of his father's work for the diplomatic service. It was fortunate timing; while preparing to return to Kabul in 1980, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan plunged the nation into decades of chaos some would suggest it has yet to emerge from. Gaining political asylum in America, Hosseini's family moved to San Jose, California; after attending medical school, Hosseini worked as doctor in Los Angeles -- and wrote his first novel. Not only was The Kite Runner published, but it was on the New York Times best-seller list for over two years, and eventually printed in over 42 languages. Now, after years of development and no small share of controversy, The Kite Runner has come to the silver screen; after screening the film for the closing night of the 30th annual Mill Valley Film Festival, Hosseini spoke with a roundtable of journalists in San Francisco about the challenges of adaptation, the genesis and possible fallout of the film's controversial scene of sexual assault and his own memories of Afghanistan. Cinematical's questions are indicated.
Cinematical: What did you learn about the process of movie making going through this experience?
I underestimated the sheer amount of labor it takes to shoot the seemingly simplest scene, just the amount of work that goes just into setting up a scene and how each member of the team has to do their job exactly right, otherwise the whole thing falls apart. It's very labor intensive. It's also very monotonous. It's exciting in a way, but -- you're doing the same thing over and over and over again. So there's a sense of monotony. I underestimated how exhausting it was. The hours are very long and physically it's very demanding. I don't know how some of these guys do it for 10, 20, 30 years, especially the crew. It's a lot of hard work.
How involved were you in the process?
I was kind of a cultural consultant, a story consultant. Maybe the best way to illustrate it is with an example; I went to L.A. and sat in an office with the producers and we looked at hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pictures that a scout had taken around the world. And they wanted me to kind of chime in and say if there was any locale that could be used to as stand in for 1970s Kabul. And we looked at Turkey and Tunisia, Morocco and India, Pakistan, but western China, the minute those pictures started coming up, I said, 'This place.' So they went out there and the Afghans who have seen the film are startled at the resemblance.
So that kind of thing – questions about dress, about food, about the way a home is decorated, a variety of things of that nature. But I didn't write the screenplay. Obviously, David (Benioff) did. I read the screenplay and we all kind of chimed in our ideas and David wrote another draft, but really it's his creation.
How do you feel the film captures Amir's betrayal of Hassan, the scene where the boy is attacked? From the work you had do creating that scene, how do you feel about seeing it on screen?
I think the scene was shot tastefully. I think in other hands, it could have really been exploitative, kind of graphic, and I don't think there's any need for that. When the boy walks out of the alley and you see the droplets of blood in the snow, I always feel this incredible moment in the audience where they go, 'Oh!' Suddenly, it elevates the film to another level. The stakes are raised at that moment. It's really a devastating moment.