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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Iraqi road movie impresses Cannes
By Rachel Rawlins
BBC News, Cannes

Scene from Kilometre Deep
The film reveals the deep divisions in today's Iraq
There is one notable newcomer in this year's Cannes film competition, which has has been billed as a return of the experienced auteurs.

Many of the 20 directors whose films are up for the prestigious Palme d'Or have competed - and won - in previous years.

But Hiner Saleem is the first Iraqi-born director to make it into the competition. His film Kilometre Zero was shot in his homeland after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Hiner Saleem's film is both a road trip round Iraq, a reflection on the country's recent history and an exploration of the troubled relations between the Kurdish minority and Arab majority.

But making a film set in the era of Saddam Hussein after his removal from power proved an enormous challenge.

Not only did he have to smuggle his camera and equipment across the border; he had to reconstruct some of the more obvious icons of Iraq under Saddam, including a large sculpture of the leader himself.

Humour in adversity

Iraqi Kurd director Hiner Saleem and cast members Belcim Bigin and Nazim Kirik
Hiner Saleem (left) and his cast are newcomers to Cannes
"I proposed to some Kurdish sculptors, who refused it. I found one Arab from an Iraqi city, he accepted it, of course not because he loved Saddam Hussein, he needed the money," the director said.

But Hiner Saleem insisted that the unfortunate sculptor work in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq for security reasons.

He was given a garden as a studio, but when the statue's head became visible above the garden wall, neighbours became alarmed and both the sculptor and his work spent the night in prison until Hiner Saleem got them released.

The tragicomedy of the production difficulties mirrors the tone of the film - a story of deep divisions rendered with an ironic eye for the humour to be found even in adversity.

The film has been well received here in Cannes we will find out on Saturday how well it has done in the competition.


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