The State Department gave the celebrity treatment Thursday to the 14-year-old stars of "Buzkashi Boys," an Oscar-nominated short film made in Kabul.
The screening filled up quickly with State Department staffers and representatives from the Afghanistan Embassy, many snapping photos with the eponymous "boys," Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul supported the film through a grant to the Afghan Film Project, a nonprofit NGO co-founded by producer Ariel Nasr. State Department Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine said the grant is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. to support Afghanistan's efforts to revitalize civil society.
"We're so saturated by images of war here from Afghanistan. I think when you give people images of war, what you do is you make them fearful of a place," Nasr said. "We have made films that try to replace fear with some kind of understanding."
In the film, buzkashi, a national sport in Afghanistan that's a bit like polo with a dead goat instead of a ball, is the impetus for two Afghan boys to dream of different lives. Although the movie did not win the Oscar for live-action short film, the two young stars were able to attend the Oscars thanks to an Internet fundraising campaign.
Mohammadi said he enjoyed surprising people by telling them a movie from Afghanistan made it to the Oscars. Paiz admitted to being star-struck on the red carpet, but refused to give the name of a certain female star who made his night.
"We were thinking that we are superstars," Paiz said, noting that someone asked him for an autograph.
"He says we 'thought' that we are superstars. But we are," Mohammadi said with a grin.
Both boys, who spoke careful English during the panel, said they want to continue acting, although Mohammadi -- who acted for the first time in the film -- also dreams of becoming a pilot. They are headed home to Afghanistan this weekend.