Out of exile: the celebrated Kurdish film director Hiner Saleem talked to Chris Kutschera about the joys and sometimes sadness of coming home.

Author:Kutschera, Chris

"LOOK, LOOK, THESE HILLS look like the body of a woman. Their shape is gentle because they are fondled by the wind ... And look at these spots of light in the sky ..." Driving through the mountains near his home town of Akkra, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Hiner Saleem, a Kurdish film director living in France, is ecstatic. "It is so beautiful that when I am alone, I feel like crying."

And every time he sees a Kurdish flag along the road--and there are plenty of them--flying over official buildings, or carved into the slopes of the mountains, he is enraptured. "It is as if I am seeing it for the first time," he confesses.

Hiner Saleem is not unknown to the readers of TME who learned through its pages in October 1998 of his first professional film, Long live the Bride ... and the liberation of Kurdistan.

Born in Akkra in 1964, Hiner Saleem described in his book My Father's Rifle how, when a child, he would watch TV, where all the presenters spoke in Arabic, and he swore that one day he would make programmes in which everyone would speak in Kurdish.

He kept his pledge. Since Long Live the Bride, he has directed several other films, including Dream Smugglers, Absolitude and Vodka Lemon, all of which were shot in France and in Armenia, partly in Kurdish.

Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, after nearly 20 years of exile, he went back to Iraqi Kurdistan and shot Kilometer Zero, which tells, in Kurdish, the story of a young Kurdish villager unwillingly sent to war on the Iraq-Iran front. The second part of the film is a road movie: the hero is sent to Kurdistan as an escort to a taxi carrying back the body of a "martyr". During this long journey from the south of Iraq to Kurdistan in the north, a trip marked by several encounters with a lorry carrying a huge statue of Saddam Hussein. The ongoing dialogue between the Arab taxi driver and the Kurdish soldier illustrates that, exceptional circumstances notwithstanding, there is little possibility of ever finding much common ground between them. The film, which was shown at the prestigious Cannes Festival, ends with a scene that takes place in Paris (and actually shot in Hiner Saleem's flat), where the young Kurdish soldier and his wife have succeeded in escaping to France and, seeing on French TV news that the Americans have reached Baghdad, they go to a window and with the Eiffel tower in the background, shout "Long live G.W.Bush!".

Hiner Saleem is clearly not afraid of expressing views that could be interpreted...

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