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Paynesville Press - December 6, 2006

Paynesville couple
appears in Sweet Land

By Addi Larson

And now, our feature presentation...Sweet Land, a Minnesota-made movie currently playing in cinemas across the country, includes Jeannette and Virgil Kulzer of Paynesville as extras.

Kulzers and their truck The Kulzers, along with their 1925 Ford one-ton pickup, appear in the independent film filmed near Montevideo and set in Minnesota. The truck played a pivotal role in the casting of the Kulzers in Sweet Land. Filmmakers needed a truck of that vintage and then cast the Kulzers as extras.

Jeannette and Virgil Kulzer of Paynesville - and their 1925 Ford pickup - appear in the new movie Sweet Land, which was filmed in Minnesota.

According to Jeanette, producers contacted her and asked to see a photo of the pickup. When she and Virgil showed up at the Montevideo filming site two years ago to make their final decision about loaning the pickup, they were asked to be extras in the film. With that, began their own big-screen debuts.

The truck fit the 1920-based story because models did not change from 1917 until the dawn of the 1927 Model A. "The old truck. That's our pride and joy," said Jeannette of the pickup she bought at an auction about 15 years ago.

The truck was previously used in the film Iron Will (1994) but was cut in the final editing.

Filmed in Montevideo in October 2004 and written and directed by Minneapolis-born Ali Selim, Sweet Land is based on the book The Gravestone Made of Wheat by Will Weaver, which is based on actual events. It is a love story of Olaf, a Norwegian-immigrant farmer; his German mail-order bride, Inge; and the land upon which they build their farm. Set in southern Minnesota in 1920, the film flashes back from present day as Olaf's grandson is pondering a choice to sell his deceased grandparents' farmland when he finds a wedding photo of his grandmother, prompting a retelling of their love story.

Jeanette explained that the film involves a community of American and Norwegian Lutherans in Minnesota at the close of WWI, who regarded Inge - their new, German neighbor - as a threat. Jeanette, who is of German descent, said an aspect of the film most taken to her heart was the carelessness shown toward Inge by residents with prejudices and settled lifestyles. She said the film reminded her of the stagnant reality that has existed for many U.S. immigrants between 1920 and today. Immigration, a political issue again these days, has always involved hard work, learning a new culture and language, and facing biases. Jeannette summarized, "Life has never been easy."

Their appearances in the film, seen as cameo roles to close friends and relatives, included Jeanette and Virgil in a brief walk by the camera as farmers during a harvest scene, and for Virgil, a longer view in an auction scene later in the story. That's the scene where their truck was also used.

The Kulzers have told family and friends when to watch for them in Sweet Land. Both she and Virgil enjoyed making the movie and seeing it in the theater, though Virgil's coffee buddies do tease him a little. "The guys were giving him a hard time, of course," said Jeannette.

The retired couple, who live a couple miles west of Paynesville, brought their five granddaughters to the film's premier in Montevideo in October 2005. "It was a big deal in Montevideo," Jeanette said of the filming and premiere. Most of the material needs for the film were sourced from Montevideo. "That was a good thing for the area, for the community," Jeanette said.

So far, the couple has viewed the film five times. "Oh, we'll go again," Jeanette said.

"When you first see yourself, so big," she continued, "Virgil, there you are. That's me. Every once in a while you'd hear someone yell, 'That's me! That's grandpa!'"

Other comments the Kulzers have heard in the theater after the credits have included sentiments such as: "Oh, wasn't that sweet!"; "I didn't think they made movies like that anymore."; and "Can you believe it? Two hours and no cussing."

Virgil's name appears in the credits under "Warmest thanks."

Reminded that the film was on a tight budget, Jeanette said she and Virgil were thankful just to have been involved. "We had fun. It was just plain fun. You would have done it for nothing."

"The truck got $100 a day, and we got $60 a day," she said. Recognizing their treasured earnings, she added, "We made a lot of friends."

Filming took place at several locations around Montevideo and at a farm site outside Dawson. While making a film conjures glamorous images of "Hollywood," Jeannette said the filming involved long, structured days (12 hours on the job for $60). Though surprised by the lackluster work routine, she did say the fresh lobster, scallops, and trout almandine for lunch were nice.

Jeanette concluded, "You really almost feel like you know the people by the time the movie is over. There's nothing in there that I wouldn't be afraid to take anybody to see. It's just a truly good story and a good lesson."

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