Actor and award-winning film director Lyes Salem has come to Bowdoin to teach as a visiting artist in francophone studies. This semester he is teaching Creative Writing and Filmmaking, a seminar cross-listed in the francophone studies and cinema studies departments. 

Salem has wanted to be an actor for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in Algeria, he moved to France to pursue his dreams. There, he interned at the French National Academy of Dramatic Arts for three years, spending his time acting and performing in the theater. However when civil war struck Algeria in the 1990s, Salem—just 25 years old at the time—chose to take a break from his acting career to write about what was happening in Algeria

His first two short films, “Jean-Farès” and “Cousines,” won awards worldwide, with the latter receiving the César Award—the French film industry’s highest honor—for Best Short Film in 2005. In both works, as well as in Salem’s subsequent productions, Salem’s relationship with Algeria plays an important role. 

“All my movies are linked to Algeria or the history between France and Algeria,” Salem said. “For me, I’m not speaking or talking about Algeria. But I try to talk from Algeria. I try to write and make movies with universal stories but that are happening in Algeria.”

Though he is often inspired by grim events, not all of his work takes on a solemn tone. His first major feature film, “Masquerades,” which was featured in several film festivals throughout Europe, is a comedy about a man living in a small Algerian village. His second feature film, “L’Oranais,” follows two Algerian war heroes who eventually lose their revolutionary ideals and become businessmen. 

In the spring of 2015, Salem visited Bowdoin, Colby and Bates to speak to students about “L’Oranais.” During his visit to Bowdoin, he visited a Francophone studies class. Shortly after, he received an offer from the department to teach at the College.

“The teachers here have PhD’s, but I did not exactly have university studies,” said Salem. “I try to be here and share my experience of what I love to do, which means writing and making films with the 18 students who are in my seminar.”

According to Wayland Chiu ’18, a student in the seminar, Salem’s perspective as a filmmaker has lent itself well to a culture of learning and teamwork in the classroom. 

“I think his perspective is very unique,” said Chiu. “The very first day, he told us to think of it as less of a class and more as a group project and a group journey of learning. His philosophy is ‘see one, do one, teach one.’ To me, that emphasizes that he really cares about the learning process and cares about what we get out of his class.”

Creative Writing and Filmmaking—which is taught entirely in French—explores storyboarding, scriptwriting and filmmaking, as well as French and Francophone cinematographic genres. Students work together to create a short film at the end of the semester. 

“The final project is where we get to take our cumulative knowledge and really apply it in a real context and show off what we’ve learned,” said Chiu. “And I hope in general that I learn to develop a story better than I did before.” 

“I hope what they get out of this class is an experience—making something they never did,” Salem said. “Maybe they never will do it again, but with this experience, maybe they surprise themselves. Or, in the best case, maybe some of them will decide to spend their lives writing and making films.” 

While his students have been hard at work trying to learn from him, Salem said that his new role as a teacher has also helped him with his own work. 

“I used to think and write alone in my desk or office, but now, I have to think of how to stimulate others to write,” said Salem. “For me, it’s very interesting because it puts me in a situation where I never did what I’m doing now. I’m thinking of how I can stimulate others, and when I find a solution, that solution helps me too when I write.”