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Heartland Film Festival: ‘The Tree’ is a beautifully told tale of going home

by Sarah James When walking into an independent film festival, you never know exactly what to expect. A film about an 88-year-old woman taking a road trip may not seem exciting to some, but The Tree is so much more than what meets the eye. Director Stephen Wallace Pruitt took the inspiring friendship between his mother and her best friend and orchestrated a beautiful, heartwarming work of fiction that is sure to pull on the heartstrings. The Tree stars Joicie Appell as Dorothy Thorp, an 88-year-old woman who takes a solo road trip from Kansas to her hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana to see her childhood best friend. Along the way, she serves her own distinct brand of midwestern wisdom to the people she meets, helping others to the best of her ability as she makes her way home. Dorothy feels like she could be anyone’s grandmother, and her spirit, kindness and sense of adventure is captivating. This story of a journey towards home is something usually reserved for a young, rebellious protagonist as a means of discovering who they are. Taking this story and shifting it to an 88-year-old woman gives the narrative a new level of depth and emotion and makes one nostalgic for a time they may have only heard of.

Joicie Appell is an absolute standout. The entire film rests on her shoulders and she does not disappoint in the slightest. In a Q&A after the film screening, filmmakers Stephen and Mary Pruitt revealed that Joicie memorized all her lines, not relying on cue cards in the slightest for long takes during lengthy scenes, which for a woman of her age is absolutely remarkable. Dorothy has moments of sheer joy and kindness mixed in with real concern, all intermingled with quick wit and comedy; Joicie masters each element of her character. Her spirit is what drives the movie forward and draws the audience in, and she executes the role flawlessly. This film was shot primarily in Kansas and Missouri, although the ending of the film took place right here in Terre Haute. The cast and crew drove along the national roads from Kansas to Indiana, showcasing the beautiful sights and quirks of the American Midwest. In fact, this whole film has a charm that is so undoubtedly Midwestern that anyone from the area can understand it immediately, even if they don’t recognize it outright. The Tree is a beautiful and emotional story that truly encompasses the heart of this area of the country, on top of asking the audience what they would do for the chance to go home. Stephen Pruitt told the audience after they watched his film that, “We all have a tree we would like to go back to.” What is your tree? Where is the place you want to someday return? And whose lives will you touch on your journey there? If you have a chance to see this film, I highly recommend you bring tissues. Tears may be shed.
You can follow the film on Facebook and Twitter. Featured image from IMDb