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'Sweet Land'

MONTEVIDEO -- Last autumn Montevideo was all a buzz with the sightings of popular Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Reasor, Ned Beatty, Tim Guinee, John Heard and Alan Cumming.

MONTEVIDEO -- Last autumn Montevideo was all a buzz with the sightings of popular Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Reasor, Ned Beatty, Tim Guinee, John Heard and Alan Cumming.

Last night, Montevideo and the countryside around it was the star of the show too.

The Southtown Plaza Theatre hosted packed houses four times over for the Montevideo premiere of "Sweet Land." The $1 million production was filmed in and around Montevideo last autumn with well known Hollywood actors, not to mention lots of local extras and scenery.

"We couldn't have made this film anywhere else," said the movie's writer and director Ali Selim as he was welcomed to a downtown reception hosted by the Montevideo Area Chamber of Commerce.

Selim and executive director Ed Driscoll brought the movie to Montevideo as a way to express their thanks. They said the area proved itself exceptional in the cooperation and help provided to make the film possible. It's inspired by Will Weaver's story "A Gravestone Made of Wheat," and includes farm scenes from the 1920's, 1960's and present.

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The film's world premiere was held one week earlier at the Hamptons International Film Festival in New York State. Selim said it captured the festival's "Audience Favorite" award, and the praise of critics.

It's featured in the recent edition of Vanity magazine with what he called a "rave review."

It's important to Selim, who is shopping the film to distributors at this point. He said the praise of the New York audiences has helped attract the interest of distributors in purchasing rights to it. "It's off to a good start."

There's a ready-made audience in Montevideo for the film of course. Many were people who landed roles as extras and were waiting last night for the chance to see themselves on the silver screen.

One of those extras, Richard Kvols, was able to sneak a preview of the film during a showing last weekend in Minneapolis. "Some of us weren't as good looking as we thought we were," said Kvols with a laugh about seeing himself on the screen.

Yet he and others were quick to lavish praise on the film, which is about an immigrant's struggle and love for the land.

"It's a once in a lifetime experience," said Mike Dupere, one of the extras waiting for the chance to see if he survived the cutting floor and made it to the screen.

Due to the high demand in Montevideo, plans for its showing were expanded to allow for four showings last night and as many again tonight.

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The filmmakers are donating all the proceeds from the eight showings in Montevideo to the Montevideo Area Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Valley Trails Initiative and the families who have lost loved ones in Iraq.

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