Jason Neulander’s feature film debut, FUGITIVE DREAMS, is based on the stage play Fugitive Pieces by Caridad Svich. What is a powerful piece of live theatre has been retained presented through a combination of gritty classic cinema like John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath with Richard Matheson’s story of “is this real life” in What Dreams May Come? Svich collaborated with Neulander and together have crafted a film that captures the energy and power of live theatre.

The film opens with a beautiful field of pink poppies as the credits roll and then plunges us into stark, yet gorgeous black-and-white.

A distraught and downtrodden black woman named Mary (April Matthis) is at the end of her existence in this harsh world. As she readies herself to end her anxiety and fear, a boisterous and chaotic John rushes out and inadvertently rescues her. Is he her angel? Is John, Clarence come down to earn his wings? He follows Mary and thus begins their adventure.  Our hopeless nomads traverse the dreamlike vision of America that only exists in artistic portraits in galleries or Tom Waits songs…

The photography frames each scene like an art show focusing on the emotion of the subjects within, and draws you into this world that may or may not be a dream. It is an original and important piece of filmmaking from Neulander, showcasing a unique reality amidst the hardness of homelessness. FUGITIVE DREAMS is a story of victims that would serve as a good reminder of what can easily be anyone’s existence in the “toss away” state of the Country before the Pandemic.

I hope that the film is not lost in the COVID shuffle of viewing opportunities. I applaud the folks at Fantasia for bringing their festival online and showcasing this important film.

The actors are perfectly cast, bringing truth and authenticity.  April Matthis as Mary and Robbie Tann as John create survivors. O-Lan Jones is charmingly odd, and Scott Shepard is unsettling. David Patrick Kelly appears in a smaller, yet important role and is mesmerizing. Peter Simonite’s cinematography is a master-class in camera placement.

Keep an eye out for this film because FUGITIVE DREAMS deserves and demands an audience.

FUGITIVE DREAMS had its world premiere at this year’s digital Fantasia International Film Festival.

J. Michael Roddy
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Nightmarish Detour

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