If it wasn't such a heartfelt, innocent film, you'd think commercial director turned filmmaker Ali Selim was trying to make something nobody would get to see. Two main characters with broken English, a low-budget period-piece, a pace that makes Little House on the Prairie seem quick... One would imagine it's a distributor's worst nightmare. But then look at Sweet Land's track record – festival after festival, it's cleaning up in what is one of the most satisfying categories to get an award at any festival – the Audience Award. Hamptons, Vail, Sedona, and even our own Florida Film Festival – all have given Sweet Land the Audience award. Perhaps this is why it's now going into a theatrical release... and deservedly so. It's a lovely film.
Based on Will Weaver's short story A Gravestone Made of Wheat, Sweet Land is set in three time periods; post World War I , the 1960s and then present day (not necessarily in that order). It follows the tale of Inge (Elizabeth Reaser, Mind the Gap, Family Stone), a German national who arrives as a mail-order bride of sorts in Minnesota, set to marry Olaf (Tim Guinee, Personal Velocity, Ladder 49), a young Norwegian farmer. Encountering anti-German sentiments with a kind of unassuming grace, the beautiful Inge gradually settles into a life and place in time that is not frequently seen in film – at least not as patiently and beautifully portrayed as it is in this film. If Inge and Olaf are two main characters in this film, the very landscape and natural beauty of South Minnesota is a third. Great credit must be given to Cinematographer David Tumblety, who presents the grand, pristine, saturated colors of North American beauty with a small indie filmmaker's eye – but in a way that just works.
Rounded out by veteran actors such as Alan Cumming (The Anniversary Party, Reefer Madness) and Ned Beatty (Deliverance, Superman), the story of Sweet Land hits on issues dealing with subjects ranging from endangered family farms to predatory bankers, from religion to socialism, from baseball to xenophobia and bigotry – but all with an originality and quiet unpredictability that on the surface seems unexpected. These aren't trite characters – they are real people that are just letting us watch their lives for a while.
If you enjoy films that provide a palpable human context to history such as Avalon, The Thin Red Line or even Dances with Wolves or Unforgiven, you will enjoy Sweet Land. Or if you're like me and are simply intrigued by the tales of immigrants and their humble, often objectified beginnings, you will enjoy Sweet Land. Perhaps this is why Ali Selim, of Egyptian origins himself, was drawn to this story... some themes within it just fit with current events. Even if you're just looking for a date movie – the kind couples of any age might go to, this will do nicely. And finally, if you need even more of a reason, Sweet Land is a Carbon Neutral production, which means all of the carbon dioxide emitted by the filmmaking process (lights, camera, transportation) is offset by comparable investments in renewable energy. A fitting effort, considering the subject matter, championed by Selim. See www.CarbonNeutral.com for more details. And then get thee to a theater.
Ali Imran Zaidi is a filmmaker, writer and web developer - shooting, banging on keyboards, and making web sites in the Orlando area.
Sweet Land is showing at the AMC Pleasure Island 24 beginning Friday, January 26, 2007. Visit sweetlandmovie.com for more theatres and showtimes.