Portland filmmaker Vu Pham has a distinct, developing voice in his films, which manifests in a dark, contemporary noir style and tone. Pham’s work is tough and confrontational at times, but there is also a quirky dark humor and irony in the work.

“I love the human stain of urban settings that show essentially the desperation and the grit and the fights of human beings who have lived, ah, and who have loved and who have lost,” Pham said, explaining his visual process and approach.

"I was extraordinarily close to my mother" Vu Pham shares.

“I was extraordinarily close to my mother” Vu Pham shares.

Photo Courtesy of Vu Pham

The tendrils of the war and the familial dysfunction and struggle that he has experienced growing up as an immigrant influence and inform much of his work. Pham was part of the second wave of refugees who escaped Vietnam by boat in 1981. He was 5 years old at the time and moved around several Asian countries in refugee camps before coming to America.

Pham was first drawn to filmmaking by the sheer adoration for the story, the imagery and the sounds — especially the music. He watched films profusely, but it wasn’t until his 30s that Pham found the courage to make his first real film. He did so with Joe X. Jiang, a Chinese-American, multi-instrumentalist and multimedia artist. The film, “Shining God” was the breakthrough he needed.

“And it just freed me up to think of myself in a different way, that I … was capable,” Pham said.

Pham continues to make short films that explore themes he would eventually like to work into a semi-autobiographical feature film. The ever-present long shadows of the Vietnam War and Pham’s childhood continue to be a powerful influence in both his life and work.

Vu Pham found his passion in filmmaking.

Vu Pham found his passion in filmmaking.

Oregon Art Beat

Resources and Information

Vu Pham Website

Vu Pham’s short film “The Cutting Shadow” opens for Steve Doughton’s feature film “Buoy” at PICA on Nov. 29. It’s part of PICA’s event Doomtown, curated by Doughton and Kristan Kennedy.

You can also view some of Pham’s short films online: