Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sweet Land

Small movies are often the best stories because they represent a filmmaker’s personal journey and experiences in life. One of these films is from 2006 called Sweet Land. You have probably never heard of it. It’s usually one of those unknown titles that you see on critics’ top ten film lists. You ask yourself, how did I miss this one? Sweet Land was named one of the best films in 2006 in both Entertainment Weekly and Los Angeles Times top ten lists. Most films like Sweet Land never receive wide distribution because they are independently produced and have limited and inadequate resources for distribution. That is a shame because Sweet Land is one film that is worth the effort to find.

The film is set in the early 1920s in rural Minnesota and is based on Will Weber’s 1989 short story, A Gravestone Made of Wheat. Sweet Land is basically an old-fashioned, romance story, the kind of movie Hollywood used to make. Inge Atenberg played by Elizabeth Reaser is an independent, feisty German mail-order bride who travels to Minnesota to marry Olaf Torvik played by Tim Geinee, a young Norwegian immigrant farmer. The people of the Minnesota farming community are openly hostile toward Inge because of her German heritage. Making matters worse, the local minister refused to marry the couple because they did not have the proper papers. There is also further complications because the town’s banker is trying to foreclose on Olaf’s farm. With no support or help from the community, what will the couple do?

Sweet Land offers an interesting and historical look at an often forgotten part of our history. What does it truly mean to be an American? How do we overcome our prejudice? The film is a labor of love. First time filmmaker, Ali Selim, spent over 15 years trying to get this film made. Nobody in Hollywood was interested in making the film. In fact, he raised over a million dollars to produce the film himself, mostly from private investors in Minnesota.

Sweet Land is also a very spiritual film. You won’t find a better example of two scenes that illustrate the difference between the indifference of religion and what a relationship with God really looks like. It is a refreshing change of pace when the town’s local Lutheran minister realizes that true belief can be expressed in a multitude of ways.

Sweet Land was also honored with an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. What also makes the film stand out is the beauty and simplicity of its cinematography. In fact, the Minnesota countryside is as much a character in the film as Inge and Olaf. It’s rare that independent films have the ability to adequately recreate an authentic, historical representation of the past.

Sweet Land also offers a strong sense of purpose. Our characters are destined and determined to build a life and a place for their children and descendents. They played a part in building our nation. Sweet Land is a celebration of the immigrant spirit and determination to overcome and to endure. If you are looking for something different than the usual mainstream, Hollywood fare, then Sweet Land offers a detour into a time and place that will reenergize your passion for life. It’s an opportunity to reconnect to our heritage and our land.

Discussion Questions

1. Why is there so much hostility and prejudice towards the Germans? And even today why is it that we have to have someone to focus our dislike towards?

2. Why does Minister Sorrennsen not marry Olaf and Inge?

3. Why is the issue of dancing in the blackness of coffee a problem for Minister Sorrennsen?

4. How can people who see themselves as Christians also be so indifferent and cruel?

5. Why won’t the church community help Olaf and Inge?

6. Why does Minister Sorrennsen speak out against Olaf and Inge?

7. Why does the church community change their views concerning the relationship of Olaf and Inge?

8. Why does the minister change his view on faith and how it is defined?

9. Why is the banker accepted by the Christian community?

10. What is the importance of land in Sweetland, and what does the land represent?

11. What is the reason that Lars will not sell the land at the end of the movie?

12. How is love represented in this film?

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