SJMA Presents Stories from the Farther Shore: Southeast Asian Film

Release date 
Thursday, February 28, 2019

The San José Museum of Art (SJMA) and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, co-present Stories from the Farther Shore: Southeast Asian Film, a special film program showcasing recent documentary, art, and feature-length films by Southeast Asian filmmakers. Topics range from struggles with transgender identity in Finding Phong (2015) by Tran Phong Thao and Swann Dubus to Malila: The Farewell Flower (2017), Anucha Boonyawatana’s meditation on love, loss, and mortality between two former gay lovers, to Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s The Island (2017), a dystopian art film shot on the Malaysian island of Pulau Bidong—the site of the largest and longest-operating refugee camp after the Vietnam War. Running from March 20–24, 2019, this free program of twelve films will screen at locations in both San José and San Francisco, including SJMA, Tully Library in San José, Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA), California College of the Arts, and the Asian Art Museum. Screenings will be followed by conversations with filmmakers, scholars, and audiences. For more information about the film program, go to  See accompanying screening schedule for the full program.

“As we expand our programming beyond SJMA’s physical borders, we are thrilled to partner with the Asian Art Museum, California College of the Arts, MACLA, Tully Library, and History Park, San José to share these quality films for free to a wide audience. Stories from the Farther Shore: Southeast Asian Film affords us the opportunity to screen groundbreaking films relevant to today’s global society," says Oshman Executive Director S. Sayre Batton.

Additionally, SJMA has commissioned Bay Area artist Robin Lasser to create a site-specific outdoor video mapping installation, a new component of her ongoing project Migratory Cultures. Titled San José’s Stories: The Vietnamese Diaspora, Lasser’s video mapping installations feature interviews with individuals from the San José’s multi-generational Vietnamese-American community whose stories of migration reveal a more complex narrative of the largest Vietnamese diaspora in the United States. The installation will be shown outside of SJMA in the Circle of Palms, March 21, 2019 at 8pm.

Stories from the Farther Shore coincides with Dinh Q. Lê: True Journey Is Return, an exhibition organized by SJMA highlighting the acclaimed Vietnamese artist’s video and photography installations that gives voice to multiple, simultaneous stories about Vietnamese life and the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The films presented in this program offer a similarly nuanced portrait of Southeast Asia, focused on contemporary issues both at home and abroad. At a time of growing hostility to immigrant and refugee experiences in the United States, the films in this program will join the exhibition in giving voice to complex, humanized stories of identity and homeland, loss and survival, tradition and modernity.


Schedule of films:

Wednesday, March 20

Light and Belief: Voices and Sketches of Life from the Vietnam War. 2011. Vietnam. Directed by Dinh Q. Lê. Vietnamese with English subtitles. 36 min.
California College of the Arts, Timken Auditorium, Main Building, SF Campus

Light and Belief: Voices and Sketches of Life from the Vietnam War uncovers an obscure history of the Vietnam War when Northern Vietnamese artists responded passionately to Hồ Chi Minh’s call to “fight on the battlefield of cultural ideology.” Eleven former artist-soldiers reveal their reasons for joining the conflict as artists, recounting their experiences with honesty and deep introspection. Brief animations of the artists and their work give their recollections a story-like quality that blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, and between individual and collective memory.

The film will be followed by a conversation with artist Dinh Q. Lê.


Thursday, March 21 

Owl and the Sparrow (Cú Và Chim Se Sè). 2008. Vietnam. Directed by Stephane Gauger. Vietnamese with English subtitles. 97 min. 
San José Museum of Art, Wendel Education Center

Ten-year old orphan Thuy is sent to live with her uncle after the death of her parents. Put to work in his bamboo factory, Thuy is treated poorly by her uncle and his associates and runs away to Saigon. In the city, she makes friends with a handful of orphans who live on the street and supports herself by selling flowers. She later assumes the role of matchmaker in hopes of finding a family, but soon realizes the task is more challenging than she expected.

The film will be followed by a conversation with producer Jenni Trang Le.


Flapping In the Middle of Nowhere (Dap Cánh Giua Không Trung). 2014. Vietnam. Directed by Nguyen Hoang Diep. Vietnamese with English subtitles. 98 min.  
San José Museum of Art, Wendel Education Center

Seventeen-year old Huyen is a student at a two-year college when she gets pregnant from her boyfriend who is a hustler and lowly employee at a public lighting company. In order to save money for an abortion, she becomes a prostitute and meets, ironically, a customer obsessed with pregnant women. He makes Huyen so happy that she almost forgets that there is a baby growing inside of her. Moving into surprising and bizarre psychological territory, Flapping In the Middle of Nowhere offers a candid representation of sex and adolescence in Vietnam.


The Island. 2017. Vietnam. Directed by Tuan Andrew Nguyen. Vietnamese with English subtitles. 42 min. 

MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, Castellano Playhouse

The Island is a short film shot entirely on Pulau Bidong, an island off the coast of Malaysia that became the largest and longest-operating refugee camp after the Vietnam War. Filmmaker Tuan Andrew Nguyen and his family were some of the 250,000 people who inhabited the tiny island between 1978 and 1991; it was once one of the most densely populated places in the world. After the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shuttered the camp in 1991, Pulau Bidong became overgrown by jungle, filled with crumbling monuments and relics. Set in a dystopian future in which the last man on earth—having escaped forced repatriation to Vietnam—finds a United Nations scientist who has washed ashore after the world’s last nuclear battle.


San José Stories: The Vietnamese Diaspora. 2019. USA. A video mapped documentary by Robin Lasser. From the series "Migratory Cultures" by Robin Lasser + G. Craig Hobbs
San José Museum of Art, Circle of Palms


Friday, March 22 
The Tailor (Cô Ba Sài Gòn). 2017. Vietnam. Directed by Tran Buu Loc and Kay Nguyen. Vietnamese with English subtitles. 90 min. 
Tully Library, San José

Highlighting the glamourous culture and lifestyle of Vietnamese women in 1960s Saigon, The Tailor tells the story of a young, arrogant girl named Nhu Y. The daughter of a famed áo dài tailor whose family has been in the same business for nine generations, Nhu Y prefers instead to design Western-style outfits. After trying on a beautiful áo dài made from fabric passed down from her ancestor, Nhu Y travels to the future and meets herself a few decades later. Witnessing the tragedy of her family’s trade after turning her back on the craft, Nhu Y learns to value the traditional Vietnamese garment.


Finding Phong. 2015. Vietnam. Directed by Tran Phuong Thao and Swann Dubus. Vietnamese with English subtitles. 92 min. 
San José Museum of Art, Wendel Education Center

Phong is a Vietnamese transwoman who grew up in a small town in the center of Vietnam. As the youngest of six children, she always felt like she was a girl in a boy’s body. After moving to Hanoi to attend college at age twenty, Phong discovers that she is not the only person in the world who feels this way. Several years later, her dream of physically changing her sex becomes a reality. The documentary follows Phong's struggle during these years, with excerpts from her intimate video journal, along with her encounters with family, friends and doctors—all of whom must come to terms with Phong’s physical transformation.

Diamond Island. 2016. Cambodia. Directed by Davy Chou. Khmer with English subtitles. 101 min. 

3Below Theaters & Lounge

Diamond Island is a symbol of Cambodia’s future: a sprawling, ultra-modern luxury housing development set along the river in Phnom Penh. In this stylish coming-of-age story, eighteen-year old Bora arrives from the provinces to work at the construction site. There, he forges new friendships, courts a local girl, and is even reunited with his older brother Solei, who disappeared from their village five years ago. Things grow ever more complicated as Solei introduces Bora to the exciting world of Cambodia’s privileged urban youth, with its girls, its nightlife, and its illusions.


Saturday, March 23
Vientiane in Love. 2015. Laos. Directed by Anysay Keola, Phanumad Disattha, Vannaphone Sitthirath, and Xaisongkham Induangchanthy. Lao with English subtitles. 105 min.
San José Museum of Art, Wendel Education Center

Vientiane in Love is the first Lao omnibus film and offers a unique representation of contemporary Laotian culture. This collection of five short films tackle love in various forms: a probable romance; a love gone wrong; a long-extinguished love; familial love, as well as love for one’s humble work; and unrequited yet unselfish love. Set in the capital city of Laos, these love stories reflect nuanced and non-typical relationships, complete with romance, heartbreak, and even humor.

Malila: The Farewell Flower. 2017. Thailand. Directed by Anucha Boonyawatana. Thai with English subtitles. 96 min. 
San José Museum of Art, Wendel Education Center

Malila: The Farewell Flower tells the story of Shane, a handsome farmer, who reunites with his ex-boyfriend Pitch, a skilled craftsman of bai sri (elaborate floral ornaments made from jasmine and banana leaves), and who is dying of cancer. They try to heal the pain of their past by reviving their old romance through the fabrication of this traditional Thai object—its delicate decorations symbols for the blossoming and withering of life, a process reflected in the progression of Pitch’s illness. Seeking redemption for himself and Pitch, Shane decides to become a Buddhist monk forever.


Nailed It. 2017. USA. Directed by Adele Free Pham. English and Vietnamese with English subtitles. 59 min. 
MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, Castellano Playhouse

In any strip mall in the United States, there is bound to be a Vietnamese nail salon. While ubiquitous in cities across the country, few Americans know the history behind the salons and the twenty Vietnamese refugee women who, in 1975, sparked a multibillion dollar industry that supports their community to this day. Weaving powerful stories with insightful interviews, Nailed It captures an unforgettable and often hilarious saga born of tragedy, charting the rise, struggle, stereotypes, and steady hold Vietnamese Americans have on today’s multiethnic $8 billion-dollar nail industry.


Sunday, March 24

Madam Phung’s Last Journey. 2014. Vietnam. Directed by Nguyen Thi Tham. Vietnamese with English subtitles. 87 min. 
San José Museum of Art, Wendel Education Center

Madam Phung is a canny businesswoman who got her start as a singer, and saved her money in the form of gold bars she would bury in the ground. Now she is something of a den mother to her largely transgender troupe—berating them when they drink or fight too much, warning them to stay out of trouble, and dealing with local police and occasionally hostile locals when necessary. It's the classic carny existence: long hours; setting up and tearing down the stage; exhorting the crowd to buy raffle tickets and play games; putting on a show. This documentary takes us on a year-long ride with an itinerant troupe of cross-dressing performers, led by Bic Phung, as they travel the remote southern regions and central highlands of Vietnam.


Memories of My Body (Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku). 2018. Indonesia. Directed by Garin  Nugroho. Indonesian and Javanese with English subtitles. 105 min.
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Samsung Hall

Juno is just a child when his father leaves him in their village of Center Java. Abandoned and alone, he joins a Lengger dance center where men assume feminine appearance and movements. But the sensuality and sexuality that comes from dance and bodies, mixed with the violent social and political situation of Indonesia, forces Juno to move from village to village. Though Juno receives attention and love from his dance teachers, his weird aunt, his old uncle, a handsome boxer, and a Warok, he still has to face the battlefield that his body is becoming alone.


Ticket info

For more information about the films and to reserve your free tickets, visit


Stories from the Farther Shore: Southeast Asian Film is organized by Rory Padeken, SJMA associate curator.

This project is made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Asian Cultural Council.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of California Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.


The San José Museum of Art reflects the diverse cultures and innovative spirit of Silicon Valley. Through its exhibitions, programs, scholarship, and collections, SJMA connects the present and the past, the art of the West Coast and the world. The Museum fosters awareness of artists’ broad contributions to society and engages audiences with the art of our time and the vitality of the creative process.

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