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Interview with Ali Selim, Director of SWEET LAND

Thursday, June 8---Ali Selim is a softspoken man from Minnesota with an expressive face and an obvious passion for filmmaking. His first film, SWEET LAND, which is the only American film included in the First Works competition at the Troia International Film Festival, has the scope, integrity and humanity of a John Ford epic.

The film captures the limitless landscapes of the Minnesota plains in the period just after World War I, when immigrants from Scandinavia began to exert their cultural heritage on the American Middle West. The film is beatifully shot and acted, with an ensemble cast that includes Alan Cumming, Ned Beatty, Lois Smith, John Heard, Tim Guinee and Paul Sand. The film perfectly captures the rhythms and speech patterns of a simpler era, while also relying as much on the beautiful visuals as the script to tell its story.

A German mail order bride, played by the incadescent Elisabeth Reaser,arrives in rural Minnesota to wed a local farmer of Norwegian heritage. Her "European" style and progressive thinking makes her a social outcast in the tightly knit farmer community. Eventually however, her integrity, honesty and compassion for the plight of others transforms her stoic husband-to-be, and motivates him to take a stand against the conservative banker who threatens to destroy the simple dreams of the immigrant farmers. The film offers a telling portrait of an America that is both welcoming and disdainful of the strangers in its midst.

SWEET LAND won praise at its world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival, winning the Best Feature Film prize. It is having its international premiere at the Troia International Film Festival, where it is in competition for a Dolphin Award as Best First Work.

Sandy Mandelberger sat down with director Ali Selim to discuss his impressive feature debut.

Sandy Mandelberger: What inspired you to create your film project?
Ali Selim: In 1990 I read a short story entitle A GRAVESTONE MADE OF WHEAT which was published in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Sunday paper. Not only did it speak to me thematically – love, courage, desire, heritage – but I also thought the simplicity of it meant it would be easy to make. I had started directing commercials a year prior and really wanted to make a feature. Lo these fifteen years later…

SM:What was the greatest challenge in realizing your film project?
AS: The challenge that took the LONGEST to over come was learning how to write a screenplay that would attract actors but it was also the most pleasant and beneficial hurdle. The worst was learning to speak the financial language and asking people to part with their money. While I hope I never use that skill again, I am glad I took the time to learn it.

SM: You get such amazingly subtle performances from your actors. Did you have a special way that you worked with them?
AS: I view them as partners in the storytelling process rather than tools, but I don’t know if that is special.

SM: How much time passed from when you preparing for the film and when you did the final edit? What kept you motivated and focused during this period?
AS: Well, fifteen years passed in the process during which time I was making a living shooting television commercials, practicing writing, raising a family, learning how to hit a baseball so I could teach my little league team how to do it, aging and, hopefully, gaining wisdom. Once, I had the honor to share a meal with John Sayles who said the trick is “to get yourself so deeply in debt that you can’t afford NOT to make the movie.

Comments (1)


Who ever had the bad idea of mail order brides or beneficial association


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Online Dailies from the 22nd Troia International Film Festival

Dates: 2-11 June 2006


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