Saleem, Hiner 1964–

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Saleem, Hiner 1964–

PERSONAL: Born March 9, 1964, in Akrée, Iraqi Kurdistan.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10003.

CAREER: Writer, screenwriter, director, composer, producer, and filmmaker.

AWARDS, HONORS: Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival Audience Award, 1998, for Vive la mariée … et la libération du Kurdistan; Venice Film Festival San Marco Prize, 2003, for Vodka Lemon; Mons International Festival of Love Films Grand Prize, 2004, for Vodka Lemon.


Le fusil de mon pere, Seuil (Paris, France), 2004, published as My Father's Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan, translated by Catherine Temerson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.


(And director and composer) Vive la mariée … et la libération du Kurdistan, Les Films du Rivage, 1997.

(And director; English title, Beyond Our Dreams) Passeurs de rèves, UGC International, 2000.

(And director; television production) Absolitude, Mandala Productions, 2001.

(And director and actor) Vodka Lemon, Dulciné Films, 2003.

(And director, producer, and executive producer) Kilomètre zéro, Memento Films, 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Hiner Saleem is an internationally known filmmaker, director, producer, screenwriter, and author. Born in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1964, Saleem left Iraq in the late 1970s and eventually settled in Paris, where he started making movies. Beyond Our Dreams is a "sprawling, tumultuous story told with fablelike simplicity," one that "sports both the virtues and limits of gentleness," commented Dennis Harvey in Variety. In the film, a young refugee couple, Dolovan and Zara flee turbulent Kurdistan for a hopeful better life in Paris. Accompanied by Zara's elderly parents, the pair travel across the freezing cold Caucasian Mountains toward a destination that is uncertain, but which they trust is better than the life they're leaving behind. Jolted from their home by the ethnic strife that enveloped Kurdistan, the couple experience further tragedy on the road as Zara's aged parents fall further and further behind in the harsh countryside and are finally lost. After a stay in a refugee commune in Armenia, Zara discovers that her father's suitcase is filled with money. Greedy predators descend on the two as they try to figure out how to proceed on their trek without visas. The pair are separated by the police, with Dolovan dodging arrest and Zara being robbed and abandoned in Ukraine. Desperately, Dolo-van searches for Zara, hoping to reunite with her so that the two can continue their journey to Paris and a new, brighter future. "Always watchable, with a leisurely but confident pace," the story is "a vaguely mythic one, colored by streaks of absurdism, pathos and fairy-tale wish fulfillment," Harvey remarked.

Vodka Lemon, perhaps Saleem's best-known film, takes an absurdist look at a Kurdish community in Armenia, where no one seems to be at home and everyone is somewhere else, working to generate enough revenue to keep family and home together. A key character, never actually seen in the film, has gone to Paris to work and send money home to his father, Hamo, but never actually sends any. Even so, the agreeable Hamo manages to successfully court the widow who runs the concession stand where the vodka lemon is sold. Not all is cheerful in the movie, as violence and alcoholism are everyday occurrences, and the background landscape is perpetually covered in snow. "The temperature is icy but much warmth is generated by the characters' good humor and wry endurance of what fate has thrown their way," wrote reviewer Louis Menashe in Cineaste.

Saleem is also the author of Le fusil de mon pere, or My Father's Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan. The novel is an account, thinly fictionalized, of Saleem's childhood in the Kurdistan of the 1960s and 1970s. He tells of the close family life of the Kurdish communities of his childhood, but also describes the constant oppression the Kurds experienced at the hands of Turks, Iranians, and Iraqis. He describes how his father kept an ancient Czech rifle on hand in case he had to take up arms in support of the Kurdish military. Saleem tells how his family fought for independence with Kurdish troops, how the revolution was put down, and the life they experienced afterward in a refugee camp. After returning to their village, life took an even greater turn for the worse as Saddam Hussein's followers took over the village and increased their efforts to eliminate the Kurds. Even among the violence and oppression of the world around him, the young Saleem faced the same travails as any growing adolescent, and shows "what it's like to work through archetypal adolescent challenges during such terrifying upheaval," observed Gillian Engberg in Booklist. Eventually, the young Saleem realized that exile was his only hope if he was to have a future. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book a "well-done but dispiriting memoir" that is "timely—and most depressing." Saleem "offers a haunting, sympathetic account of a young life amid the horrors of a war zone," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Saleem "writes crisply, with economy and restraint," noted Daniel Sullivan in the Weekly Standard, "which allows him to treat several themes in his childhood completely and without sentimentality."



Saleem, Hiner, My Father's Rifle: A Childhood in Kurdistan, translated by Catherine Temerson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.


Booklist, November 15, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of My Father's Rifle, p. 550.

Cineaste, spring, 2005, Louis Menashe, review of Vodka Lemon, p. 80.

Daily Variety, May 24, 2005, Deborah Young, review of Kilomètre zéro, p. 18.

Hollywood Reporter, May 13, 2005, Duane Byrge, review of Kilomètre zéro, p. 9.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2004, review of My Father's Rifle, p. 996.

Publishers Weekly, October 11, 2004, review of My Father's Rifle, p. 63.

Variety, September 25, 2000, Dennis Harvey, review of Beyond Our Dreams, p. 71.

Weekly Standard, January 24, 2005, Daniel Sullivan, review of My Father's Rifle, p. 35.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux Web site, (January 23, 2006), biography of Hiner Saleem.

Internet Movie Database, (January 23, 2006).

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Saleem, Hiner 1964–