Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Take two: A second look at the film “Sweet Land” & immigration issues February 6, 2017


The letter Inge received from Olaf, in the fictional film Sweet Land.

She is not one of us. We speak a common language. We have a common background, a common culture. She is not one of us.

We have to be careful about this sort of thing…German nationals. German nationals engage in prostitution. They harbor dangerous political convictions. Are you aware of the Espionage Act of 1916?

English only in the church. English.

You’re German. It’s a bad influence. You’re German. It’s a disruption to my community. You make coffee that’s too black.

She makes good coffee, not like the women in church.

I was fearful of her differences, but I was hopeful she could join us on our path….Do not allow your good lives to be poisoned by these two.

This is German food?

No, just food.

You don’t have the papers.


Promotional from Sweet Land website.

LAST WEEK I REWATCHED Sweet Land, an award-winning independent film released in 2005. The movie, based on Minnesota writer Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” and filmed on my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, rates as a favorite of mine.


Olaf Torvik’s home on the prairie. The film was shot in and around Montevideo, Minnesota.

I appreciate the early 1920s setting, the music, the story and, now, its relevancy to today. The above dialogue comes from Sweet Land, which focuses on the challenges faced by Inge Altenberg, summoned to America by Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik. He expects a Norwegian mail order bride as do others in the community. But Inge is not Norwegian; she is German.

Thereafter, the conflict begins with “She is not one of us.”

The land and love shape the story.

The land and love weave into this story. Here Inge and Olaf dance on the prairie.

I won’t give away the plot, which includes a love story. But I will tell you that I watched the movie this time from a much different perspective, in the context of current day immigration issues in our country. Sadness swept over me.

Please watch this thought-provoking, conversation-starting film. It’s a must-see whether you make coffee that’s good, judged as too black or you don’t brew coffee at all. It’s still coffee.

FYI: Sweet Land, the musical opens April 29 at History Theatre in St. Paul. It runs for five weeks, Thursday – Sunday, until May 28. Will I go? I’d love to…

RELATED: Saturday afternoon a sizable crowd gathered on the Rice County Courthouse grounds in my community for a peaceful protest. Please click here to watch the video, Faribault, Minnesota Immigration Ban Protest 2-4-17, posted by Terry Pounds. Faribault is home to many immigrants and refugees, including from Somalia.

A photographic exhibit of refugee children who fled Syria, leaving everything behind, is showing at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Photos for Where the Children Sleep were taken by award-winning Swedish photojournalist Magnus Wennman. In order to increase community access to the exhibit, the ASI is providing free admission on Wednesdays in February. The exhibit runs through March 5. Where the Children Sleep launches the Institute’s 2017 “Migration, Identity and Belonging Programming.”

Review © Copyright 2017 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Take two: A second look at the film “Sweet Land” & immigration issues”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    What a story. I can imagine why you want everyone to share in this film and story. Very timely.

  2. Sue Ready Says:

    I have it it my ticket for April 30th-I have seen the movie and loved it. I agree with your statement ….
    viewing it from a much different perspective, in the context of current day
    how sad the world has come to such turmoil , bigotry and less tolerance towards those who are different.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    My neighbor told me of a time that when a farm was to be sold, a meeting would be held at church to decide who could buy it. After all, you wouldn’t want an Irish Catholic to move into the neighborhood!

    However, on the subject of immigration, all sides of the debate need to avoid the temptation to conflate the issues. Opposing illegal immigration is not the same as opposing immigration. The threat of extremism posed by some, should not be conflated to the many.

    I have often found that solutions present themselves when one defines the problem correctly.

    But the biggest problem of all… is that there are 60 million refugees in the world today. Debating about allowing thousands into the country is like arguing about how big the lottery jackpot should be. What are we doing about the 60 million?

    At least IKEA is doing something by carrying products produced in refugee camps.

  4. Impactful! I was thinking the other day to myself are we progressing forward or moving backwards at times with the current state we live in. I am going to leave my comment with one word . . . KINDNESS 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy

  5. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Thank you for the film recommendation. I’m putting it on our list! I’m encouraged by all the pushback on Trump’s immigration ban and the way it’s sparked so many conversations about what this means and what America stands for or could stand for if we just thought about how we all got here. Kindness is the perfect word to carry with us, the one that might inform our actions as we resist the changes that will hurt real live people.

  6. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’ve never heard of this movie but it sounds like it brings up some interesting issues. I’ll look out for it xx

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Oh wow that looks like a great film to watch.

  8. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. Lorry Schwartz Karow Says:

    I remember reading this book some time ago, but you have resurrected my recollections and have decided to re-read it. And thank you for the heads up on the performance coming up at the History Theatre, that will be a must for me. I love history of the immigrants/immigration.

    It seems the attitudes toward the acceptance of immigrants is something that raises it’s head often. A couple instances that come to mind are the attitudes toward German immigrants in the US during the development/progression of WWI, Irish and Italian immigrants in the US and the Vietnamese immigrants in more recent years.

    • I have considered the same past immigrant issues that you list here. You are correct on all being major concerns at some point in time. And then attitudes, for various reasons, shifted. Today’s situation seems more contentious and wider spread. Or perhaps that’s just my perception.

      I’m always happy to recommend books and films that hold great value. And discovering the History Theatre play was simply a bonus of my online research. I would like to attend also, but don’t know that I will be able to do so.

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