AT&T’s Untold Stories program is a partnership between AT&T and Tribeca Film Festival and Tribeca Film Institute to develop underrepresented content providers. The wnner of the AT&T Untold Stories Grand Prize at the 2021 Tribeca festival was Nardeep Khurmi’s Land of Gold. It may be a story that we have seen before, but it comes at it through a different set of eyes that gives new insight.
Kiran (Kjurmi) is a first-generation Punjabi-American truck driver who is starting to stress about his impending fatherhood. Much to his wife’s irritation, Kiran takes one last job transporting a load to Boston before the baby is due. Along the way he hears banging from the trailer and discovers a ten year old girl hiding there. Elena (Carolyn Valencia) is trying to get to her uncle in Boston after her parents were taken in an ICE raid. The idea of taking her to the police doesn’t sit right. She would just end up in a system that probably wouldn’t help her get to her family. So the two wary companions set out across country. Their journey allows them (and us) to discover the similarities and differences of their lives. Keep an eye out for the way their food preferences help them learn of each other.
The key difference in the way that this story is told is that in Kiran we meet a Sikh. (Well, sort of. He isn’t really practicing—going back to his own family’s difficulty when coming to the US.) As he and Elena travel, they discover bits of each other’s religion. When Kiran talks with his mother about what he is doing, she and Kiran’s wife approve. His mother tells him that he is following the teaching of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak. Service to others is a basic value of Sikhism, and Kiran is trying to help Elena, even if it creates trouble for him.
As Kiran and Elena travel, we discover that the American Dream may not be as golden as we like to think. Kiran and his family faced struggles when they came to the US, just as Elena has a different set of issues. Kiran’s family had to deal with issues of prejudice in being mistaken for Moslems. At one point, his father cut Kiran’s hair (which Sikhs are not suppose to do) to save him from problems. Elena lives in fear of ICE and what they have done to her family.
The film also focuses on the importance of family for these immigrants. Elena is seeking the only family she has left, even though she hasn’t heard from him for some time. Kiran, besides the impending birth of his child, has other family issues—a mother who gets on his wife’s nerves, a brother in Boston who got to go to college and med school because Kiran went to work, and a father suffering from dementia. In spite of such conflicts, the bonds of family are sustaining, which highlights just what Elena has lost.
Immigrant stuggles are not new ground for stories. This film comes at it from a slightly different perspective. It reminds us all that the many who have come here looking for opportunity had difficult roads to travel.
Land of Gold is in select theaters and will premier on (HBO) Max on May 15th, 2023.