DER Documentary

The Phans of Jersey City

The Phans of Jersey City

by Abbie H. Fink, Stephen L. Forman, John N. Fraker, Dennis Lanson
color, 49 min, 1979


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A true gem of 1970s American cinema verite filmmaking re-released! The Phans of Jersey City fills a gap in our cinematic history of Vietnam by documenting a South Vietnamese family recently relocated to the United States. Evoking the realist style and domestic drama of An American Family, the filmmakers lived with the Phans in order to achieve a remarkably intimate and detailed portrait of a family in transition as well as a country in transition.

The film catches up with the Phans who have settled into a suburban lifestyle, yet are still struggling with mediocre employment, racial discrimination, change within their family hierarchy, and simply coming to terms with the lives they left behind. Driving flashy cars, dancing to disco, drinking beer, and watching TV are routine for the kids, but Colonel Phan spends his days wrapped in dreams of former glory. A former military court judge, combat officer, businessman, diplomat, and politician, this fading patriarch reveals his poignant angst as he putters around the house, displays his medals, and demonstrates the fox trot for the camera. He has stopped speaking to his oldest son who is dating a “low class” Ecuadorian woman, and his oldest daughter, who had owned her own business in South Vietnam, longs for more than the housekeeping and caregiving position that she inherited upon her arrival to the states.

As much a window into the late 70’s sociopolitical atmosphere as it is a document of clashing cultures and the less conspicuous side effects of war, The Phans of Jersey City is still relevant today as America wrestles with the ongoing issues of war, immigration and the family unit.

“Richer than fiction, the true-life drama of the Phans provides a complex interpretation of the American Dream that is all at once inspiring and disturbing.” — Larry Kardish, Museum of Modern Art
“The film is studded with unsettling poetic images – the colonel and his wife dancing a slow tango in their living room, the family wandering through the Paramus mall as though it were the Louvre.” — J. Hoberman, Village Voice
The Phans of Jersey City raises more questions about American political and social life than any one movie could conveniently answer.” — Vincent Canby, New York Times

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