One small step for U.S. -- Iraqi relations, one giant step for a young filmmaker. On the Prague set of ''Everything Is Illuminated,'' 25-year-old Iraqi Muthana Mudher is getting a crash course in American-style moviemaking. As an intern on the project, Mudher, an aspiring filmmaker from Baghdad, has painted sets, assisted the director of photography, shot video for the film's press kit, and even worked as an extra. All this because actor Liev Schreiber saw him telling MTV's ''True Life'' how nearly impossible it is to learn his profession in a country ravaged by war.
Schreiber, who makes his directorial debut with the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's 2002 novel, contacted Mudher through MTV and, along with the movie's producers, is personally financing the cross-cultural moviemaking adventure. ''We felt really guilty about what our country had done to his country,'' says producer Peter Saraf. ''And then, of course, he gets here, and it never occurred to me that he would say something like 'But I love George Bush he changed my life!'''
''Illuminated,'' which stars Elijah Wood and is slated for a 2005 release, follows a young Jewish American's road trip across Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. ''In a sense, it was perfect to have someone from his world working in our world,'' says Schreiber of the culture transplant. ''In a lot of ways, it mirrored the story.''
Mudher will likely return to Iraq when shooting wraps Aug. 7, and he hopes to continue making films. ''I consider this thing as kind of miracle,'' says Mudher, who learned English watching American movies. ''I'm attending the best days of my life.''