EXCLUSIVE: Iraqi-Kurdish director Hiner Saleem is in Cannes with Un Certain Regard title My Sweet Pepperland [pictured].

Iraqi-Kurdish filmmaker Hiner Saleem has revealed he is developing an epic love story spanning two decades and the Middle East. 

The director is currently in Cannes with My Sweet Pepperland, about a local police chief and teacher who challenge a drugs baron in the remote Kurdish Khwakork border area, which screened in Un Certain Regard on Wednesday.

‘It will be a fresco of the Middle East revolving around a love story unfolding over the last two decades in the region. It will be shot principally in Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq. It will be a lot more ambitious than My Sweet Pepperland in terms of its scale, with thousands of extras and a host of interwoven characters,” said Hiner.

“I can’t give too many details because we’re still writing the script but in broad terms it will open in 1990, around the time of the invasion of Kuwait, and revolve around a forbidden relationship between a Turkish man and Kurdish woman unfolding against the backdrop of the momentous recent history of the region,” he continued.

Saleem is co-writing the screenplay with Antoine Lacomblez with whom he also collaborated on My Sweet Pepperland.

“We’re finishing off the script and plan to start working on financing after Cannes,” said Saleem.

The filmmaker, who produces under the HS Production banner and divides his time between Iraqi Kurdistan and Paris, plans to reunite with My Sweet Pepperland co-producers French Agat Films and German Roh Films on the picture.

Unusually, Saleem is also in talks with potential Turkish producers. 

The 40-year-old Kurdish-Turkish has made such collaboration a rarity but a recent ceasefire by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) may herald a new era for cooperation between Turkish and Kurdish producers and filmmakers.

“I really hope this new openness on both sides will enable us to shoot in Turkey too… I want to work with people from across the Middle East and Europe with this film… For me, the cinema world should transcend politics.”