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The Independent Critic

Marcelene Unternahrer, Jaiden Wade, Dalton Dimmitt, Taylor Hesting, Stephanie Tethrake, Megan Frazier, Derick Purvis, Denise Cole, Makayla Strickland, Scott Wormsbecher, Jodi Lowdenslager, Ben Colon, Melissa Roach, Lynn Schweisberger, Juniper Masterson, Taylor Guzzo, Jason Young, Claire Jensen, Dominic Moore, Christian Radican, TJ Trusty, Justus Crum, Michael Seaman, Samantha Hunt
Tabitha Johnson, Phillip McFarland, Tadd Pugh
68 Mins.

 Movie Review: I Heard It Through the Blueberry Vine 
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Plymouth, Indiana's The REES, a historic theatre, hosted the world premiere of Marshall-Starke Development Center's first feature production I Heard It Through the Blueberry Vine, a full-length feature described as a "Hallmark -style film" featuring a cast comprised of 95% adult actors with developmental disabilities. 

Marshall-Starke Development Center (MSDC) is a group-based facility empowering adults with developmental disabilities by teaching independent living skills. With a new performing arts division, MSDC first ventured into filmmaking with the 2022 20-minute production of The Wizard of MSDC. Now, they've gone much bigger with a film that was in production for over a year and also included behind-the-scenes production and crew members who are also individuals with developmental disabilities. 

The film centers around Holly Holiday (Marcelene Unternahrer), a young woman who moved to the big city to fulfill her dream of becoming a school counselor. However, when she receives a mysterious call from her hometown of Blueberry Hill she agrees to return home and gets involved in a great mystery of animals missing from the local animal shelter. 

I Heard It Through the Blueberry Vine is a spirited and fun film with a diverse cast that teaches acceptance, diversity, and inclusion. This includes a strong presence of deaf and HOH cast members with ASL included at times throughout the film. 

The film had two public screenings at The REES on April 25th and 26th and attracted quite a bit of attention leading up to its premiere. The film is co-written and directed by Tabitha Johnson, Phillip McFarland, and Tadd Pugh. Johnson is coordinator of MSDC's performing arts program, McFarland is assistant coordinator for the program, and Pugh is director of photography for the film. 

Through I Heard It Through the Blueberry Vine, MSDC has been able to help their clients learn how movies are made while also opening up a world of creativity and self-expression. The project reminds me a lot of Zeno Mountain Farm and, to a certain degree, the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. 

While Unternahrer is front-and-center throughout the film, I Heard It Through the Blueberry Vine features quite a few fun performances within its large ensemble cast including Jaiden Wade as Jax, Dalton Dimmitt as Hank, Taylor Hesting as Anne Sullivan, Scott Wormsbecher as The Sheriff, Makayla Strickland as Susan Swan, Denise Cole as Lucy Lovetail, and a host of others. 

I Heard It Through the Blueberry Vine is just a blast to watch plus it's a film with a great mission. As one of the country's leading disabled film journalists and someone who also works in the disability field, I'm passionate about diversity and inclusion in the arts. I Heard It Through the Blueberry Vine gets it right by telling a meaningful story with a talented ensemble cast and crew largely comprised of adults with developmental disabilities. If you get the chance, you'll definitely want to check it out.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic