House of Sand and Fog Director Drew on Own Refugee Past

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
December 24, 2003

As soon as Vadim Perelman read House of Sand and Fog, a complicated 1999 best-seller about the American dream gone awry, he knew he had to make the film.

But first the unproven director, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, had to buy the movie rights.

In a phone pitch to Andre Dubus III, the book's author, Perelman didn't mince his words.

If you give your novel to any other director, Perelman recalled telling the stunned Dubus, "they're gonna chain your baby to the radiator, rape, and kill it."

Perelman got the rights.

At first glance, Perelman seems an unlikely choice for director of House of Sand and Fog, a tragic tale of two desperate people—Massoud Amir Behrani, an exiled Iranian colonel who flees to the United States where he's reduced to doing menial jobs, and Kathy Nicolo, a recovering drug addict—and their battle for ownership of a California house.

But Perelman, who spent his childhood as a poverty-stricken refugee, says he can relate very personally to the immigrant experience depicted in House of Sand and Fog.

"The movie parallels what happened to me in my life," Perelman said in an interview in Los Angeles. "It's a story about loneliness and of being cast out, about being an immigrant in a new country—and feeling like an immigrant in your own country."

House of Sand and Fog is already playing in New York and Los Angeles, and opens elsewhere in North America on December 26.

A Refugee's Life

Born in 1963 in Kiev in the former Soviet Union, Perelman grew up as an only child. But his parents were poor, and he remembers having to share a room with ten people. When he was nine years old, his father was killed in a car crash.

Five years later, he and his mother were granted permission to leave Kiev. They packed suitcases full of souvenirs to sell—hand-painted Russian dolls—and headed to Europe. In Vienna and Rome, Perelman survived as a virtual street urchin as he and his mother waited for a visa to go to Canada.

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