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Fade to White
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by Jay Seaver

"100 years of dangerous walks in the park."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: "Fade to White" alternates between three science fiction stories taking place in and around New York City's Central Park over the course of 112 years, and while they are in some ways a bit of a mixed bag quality-wise, the overall quality is quite good, with none actually being duds. That's a pretty good showing for a movie that kind of looks like it was made by sneaking a camera into the park when it would be less occupied during the winter hours.

Sneaking in is a bit of an issue in the past set in 2018, when Eileen (Margie Stokley), a middle-aged woman suffering from memory problems being researched by her fiancé David (Arthur Aulisi), has to pass security checkpoints and give her itinerary to get into the supposedly-public space. There, she meets Cal (Jesse Swenson), a younger man who has been traveling and asks her to run away with him. Or at least, that's the way it seems; there is a revelation or two to come. They may not be huge surprises, but they pack a bit of an emotional punch, and their reminiscences are filled with bits that are both hints and natural details. Margie Stokley and Jesse Swenson don't quite have the sort of age difference to make for an inverted May-December romance, but they're an unusual pairing. Fun to watch, though, with good work from both.

The park is even more off-limits in 2070, when a man breaks into the park to retrieve an item that he can trade for help that his ailing wife badly needs, only to be hunted by the cyborg "Seffer" that patrols the park and confronted by another man with a surprise of his own. This is probably the least accessible segment, a puzzle box that requires much more attention be paid to the plot but does not necessarily supply the sort of compelling question or conundrum that keeps the viewer curious as the movie shifts to the other segments. Rick Busser and Ryan Bronz are both doing good work as the men at odds over the object of their dangerous scavenger hunt.

At the other end of the timeline, 2130, siblings Kate (Liz Holtan) and Damon (Santino Fontana) are living in an underground bunker. At least, they are until they're expelled for using more than their fair share of resources on things like watching 150-year-old TV and movies. They think that there is safety across the Hudson River, but a life spent inside a tiny, climate-controlled habitat had not prepared them for emerging in the center of a park that is extremely cold, lifeless, and possibly radioactive. In some ways, it's a bit of a dig on how well most sci-fi fans would do if we actually wound up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it seldom comes across as mean-spirited; even when things get tough, there's a good blend of realistic appraisal and necessary optimism. Liz Holtan provides a great deal of the latter, playing Kaye as a fallout-sheltered teen with an encyclopedic knowledge of the better (or at least more adventurous) futures imagined by prior eras who manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of Mary Sue-type characters, projecting an enthusiasm that may be naive and immature but is still infectious.

The three stories are connected, as one might expect, and it's not necessarily a great idea; it mainly functions to make the middle period even more needlessly complex and turn a good deal of a dramatic gesture at the end of the near-present-day segment into mere setup. Still, for a screenplay credited to three writers each working on their own thread (I think; I didn't take notes during the credits), it is surprisingly cohesive. No segments ever seem at particular odds with others, and the recurring idea of spaces like the park growing more constricted and guarded in the name of security is just prominent enough to help tie things together thematically without becoming the entire point. And for a film set in New York City and around one of its landmarks, Fade to White is surprisingly lax in terms of reminding the audience that this city is or was the best city compared to the usual!

Director Elizabeth Lucas does a fair job sewing these three stories together. As you might guess from the title, she uses a fade to white when moving between times that is not subtle at all, but that's fine; it's not like there's an obvious change in season or environment to differentiate them, and sometimes clarity trumps invisibility. Within each thread, she does a nice job of presenting that story as taking place in a fairly contained piece of time without making it feel hurried or stretched. Segments have their own personalities but feel like part of the whole even without the shared landscape.

"Fade to White" doesn't hide that it is made with extremely tight constraints, and deserves a lot of credit for how it is almost certainly working around schedules that are as tight as the budget. It doesn't need as much of that credit as it might appear, though; it uses a small space to build in different directions, and generally makes good on its ambitions.

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originally posted: 03/27/15 00:55:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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