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Subterranean Light: Films Beneath the Skin of the American Dream

Mar 22 7:00 PM - 9:30 PM


511 Building - Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design


Undergraduate Community Events

511 NW Broadway
Portland, Oregon, 97209   [map]

What is a life fulfilled? A life that is anchored in meaning and value? A life that is brimming with potential for success and beauty? From across the long shadow of indefinable and inexhaustibly varied American traditions is the monolithic obsession of an American Dream: the idea that if you just simply work hard and harmoniously, united in the common vision of a middle-class utopia, you will be rewarded a piece of the great pie in the sky; a place where opportunity and justice are one and the same and the potential for ownership of property is magically infinite. The oasis where science and reason can perfectly hold together the seams of civilization while cognitive dark-matter is dispelled through intellectual permeability.

By now we have all clearly witnessed if not personally then at least culturally the slow demise of this mythology. What appears absent in its metamorphosis is the reconciliation with an existential and ontological substrate for which we can rationally and freely embrace it as a condition of being human; a means for which the “dream” is released to be a vision of historically trampled ideals but yet soars magnificently with wings of desire. In short, to possess the critical understanding that the “American Dream,” in its purest form, is merely an inherent yearning of the collective but a rarely attained reality of the individual. How can we salvage this “truth” from the deep sedimentation of binary absolutes cradled in the cathedral of Western epistemology? How can we more humanely navigate the social dilemmas of poverty, addiction, and mental illness?

Subterranean Light is a collection of short films by Portland filmmaker Vu Pham that expresses the humanity of a void in discernable meaning, the beauty of truth in the grotesque, and the equilibrium of ambiguity. Through semi-autobiographical inspirations, broken memories, day-dreams, and hallucinations, Pham conjures bold and nuanced tales of highway chasing, dispossessed drifters, Vietnamese refugees lost in the wake of exodus, low-life drug deals in the theater of the absurd, an underworld that quickly becomes a chaotic netherworld, and the existential impasse of a working-class man.

The Films

Horizon Mood Reel (7 Min)

My Brother (24 Min)
Baby Ipecac (11 Min)

The Cutting Shadow (18 Min)
Sudden Stars in the Night Zoo (38 Min)

Written and Directed by Vu Pham
Co-Directed by Joe X. Jiang

Salon Discussion with Director Vu Pham and Associate Professor Paul Montone following screening.

Light refreshments provided.

Vu Pham is a Portland based writer, director, producer, and actor. He is a refugee from Vietnam whose work has been significantly influenced by personal and historical trauma, existential philosophy, and transitory life on the fringes. He has won grants from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, been showcased by the NW Film Center and the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, and was recently shortlisted for the Sundance Institute’s Asian American Feature Film Fellowship. His work and his story have been featured by OPB, The Oregonian, the Willamette Week, and DiaCritics. His films have played in such festivals as the Portland International Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival, and Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. As an actor he has had the honor of working with actors Harrison Ford, Brendan Frasier, Jonathan Groff, and Cori Stoll. Vu considers the followings acts to be an accurate summation of his existence: sleeping, dreaming, building towards his ideals, destroying that which was built, and rebuilding.