AFF Review: Fugitive Dreams

Haunting and unorthodox road trip drifts with its protagonists

The unorthodox Fugitive Dreams taps into the wounded psyches of two drifters with primal bravery. From the start, you know this is not an objective reality, but rather one filtered through the subconscious minds of an oddly coupled pair.

Mary (April Matthis) is a hardened pragmatist in a housedress, while John (Robbie Tann) is a sickly young man prone to incessant rambling. Their initial meeting in the restroom of a deserted gas station is both fortuitous and destined. As Mary stands before the mirror, poised to slit her wrists with a shard of glass, John comically stumbles through the unlocked door with an urgent need to urinate, unaware of her presence. After this bizarre introduction inadvertently aborts the suicide attempt, the two strangers begin a dream-like journey together as they cross dried-up cornfields, walk along ghostly roads, and ride rumbling boxcars. Nicely shot in both black-and-white and color by Austinite Peter Simonite, it’s a pilgrimage through a vaguely familiar American landscape, haunted by memories bursting with the promise of terrible violence.

The film’s non-linear narrative is challenging; it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But while events may seem to occur randomly, debut director Neulander (founder and former artistic director of Austin’s groundbreaking Salvage Vanguard Theatre) and dramatist Caridad Svich’s screenplay, based on the latter’s play, isn’t haphazard at all. Certain images (a beautiful field of red poppies, a large belt with a nasty buckle) gain power as they repeat, while stealth themes of addiction, physical abuse, and mental illness emerge in the guise of the film’s damaged characters. Arguably, there’s a compassionate humanism at work here, but what you ultimately make of Fugitive Dreams - if anything — is up to you.

Fugitive Dreams

Texas Independents, U.S. Premiere

Don't miss our interview with Jason Neulander about adapting the play for the screen, "How Fugitive Pieces Became Fugitive Dreams," Oct. 16.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Steve Davis
Not everything that happens in Vegas ...

Dec. 25, 2020

Steve Davis Top 10 Films of 2020
Steve Davis Top 10 Films of 2020
"The continued development of my film education"

Dec. 18, 2020


Austin Film Festival, Austin Film Festival 2020, Fugitive Dreams, Jason Neulander, April Matthis, Robbie Tann, Peter Simonite

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle