Oscar-nominated work puts Afghan teens in the spotlight

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Oscar-nominated short "Buzkashi Boys" is about two teens dreaming to be star players. But it made star players of the lead actors -- 15-year-old Jawanmard Paiz and 14-year-old Fawad Mohammadi.
CBS News

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - Five pictures are in contention Sunday night at the Academy Awards for best live action short film --and the stars of one of those films is attracting a lot of the Oscar eve buzz. This is the story of two young actors who are a long way from home.

In Afghanistan, the words "lights!" and "action!" usually mean explosions.

But this war-torn country is now the setting for something completely different: an Oscar-nominated film not set with a backdrop of war, but about the national sport of Afghanistan -- buzkashi, a more brutal form of polo.

"Buzkashi Boys" is about two teens dreaming to be star players. But it made star players of the lead actors -- 15-year-old Jawanmard Paiz and 14-year-old Fawad Mohammadi.

Complete coverage of the 2013 Academy Awards

"Everybody think that Afghanistan is a demolished country," said Paiz, "a bad country. But that's not the real face of Afghanistan."

American director Sam French shot on location in Kabul, hoping to restore an art form that left in ruins.

"When the Taliban came in," said French, "they burned all the cinemas and the film reels they could find, and they banned cinema."

And with the Taliban still a threat, they know any fame from this movie means they could become at a price.

"Life is very difficult in Afghanistan. Especially to us," said Paiz.

Added French: "These kids are incredibly courageous and they want a better future for themselves, just like the characters in the movie."

Their trip to America is a whirlwind of interviews and appearances -- overwhelming, but in a good way, said Mohammadi. As for what they'll miss when they go back home, he said: "I think we will miss everything here. A lot."

But what they'll miss most is the feeling of freedom. "I could say that here [in America] I am so safe," said Mohammadi.

French acknowledged that the two teens experienced a lot. "When I was 14, I was reading science fiction books in my bedroom and playing on my nice green lawn. All the kids in Afghanistan have grown up too fast."

Reality may still be harsh, but for now, it can wait.

"On the red carpet, everyone says, every photographer says, 'Look at me!' 'Look at me!,'" said Paiz. "It's a dream of every actor to go to [the] Oscars, on [the] red carpet."