Thanks to an Internet campaign that raised enough funds to pay for their travel, Afghan actors Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz walked the red carpet and rubbed shoulders with Hollywood's brightest stars at the Oscars on February 24.
The teenage stars of the Oscar-nominated short film "Buzkashi Boys" were in California to attend the 85th annual Academy Awards. (UPDATE: "Buzkashi Boys" lost out to "Curfew," directed by Shawn Christensen.)
"Buzkashi Boys" focuses on two children growing up in Kabul
who dream of becoming Buzkashi riders, horsemen who compete in the dangerous Afghan national sport similar to polo in which riders try to carry a headless goat into a circular goal.
The film garnered U.S. director Sam French an Oscar nomination for best live action short. Its producers launched the Internet campaign to bring the film's 14-year-old stars to attend the awards ceremony because they said they lacked a travel budget.
Mohammadi could hardly contain his enthusiasm after landing in Los Angeles on February 20.
"I am so excited and so happy,” he said, adding that “lots of pictures” would be taken.
A Life-Changing Event
Mohammadi, an amateur actor with piercing green eyes, gained international attention following the film's release last year for his personal story as a fatherless youth who grew up selling maps of Kabul to tourists in the Chicken Street market.
One of the boys in the film is a street kid like Mohammadi, the other the son of a blacksmith forced to spend long hours in his father's dark workshop sharpening ax heads.
According to Mohammadi, the film has altered his life.
"It has changed a lot,” he says. On Chicken Street lots of people recognize me, and also lots of people take pictures with me and they encourage me a lot."
Paiz maintains that he has forged a real-life friendship with Mohammadi since the film was made.
"We became really good friends on the set, helping each other out,” he says. “And we have managed to maintain a relationship since the movie was filmed. We're really happy we stayed friends. We plan to continue our friendship."
WATCH: The official international trailer for "Buzkashi Boys"
Both teens said they wanted to see all the actors during their week in Hollywood. They said they also plan to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios.
Mohammadi hopes to see Sylvester Stallone and Paiz wants to meet Al Pacino.
‘A Huge Step Forward’
French, the director, suggests that the goal is to make the weeklong trip culturally relevant for the teens.
"Well, I just think, just the fact that we're talking about something other than the war, other than bombs and bullets, I think is a huge step forward,” he says. “And hopefully we can show that these kids are like normal kids everywhere and that is huge. And that's what we want to try to do with 'Buzkashi Boys' is to show that, you know, kids here are no different than kids there, and people are no different. And if that comes across in any way, that would be great."
French and other "Buzkashi Boys" producers raised funds in an Internet campaign to pay for Mohammadi's and Paiz's journey from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Some 237 people donated money to the travel fund, which raised $11,751, eclipsing its $10,000 goal, according to the fundraising website rally.org. Donations were received from 13 countries, including the United States, Afghanistan, India, and Germany. Turkish Airlines donated the tickets for Mohammadi, Paiz, as well as a chaperone.
Mohammadi and Paiz will fly to Washington, D.C., for screenings of the film on February 27 and begin their journey back to Kabul on March 1.
"Buzkashi Boys," which runs for 28 minutes, is the first film to be produced by the Afghan Film Project, a nonprofit group that aims to train filmmakers in Afghanistan.
Based on a Reuters report