Sacred Landscapes: The art of Hung Viet Nguyen


Tish Laemmle’s Art in the Arthouse series places beautifully curated art exhibits in Laemmle theater space. Running through December at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, her current exhibition, Sacred Landscapes is a visionary gallery show that’s simply not to be missed.


Artist Hung Viet Nguyen‘s mosaic-like paintings play like a precise and beautiful series of dreams. Each work has a hush about them, a reverence for nature and beauty that makes the show’s title all the more true – this is a spiritual, sacred experience. The works shine like jewels as they reach into the depth of Nguyen’s experience, which becomes a piece of each viewer’s experience, too.


Born in Vietnam, the Los Angeles-based Nguyen once studied biology in Saigon, but moving to the U.S., he worked as an illustrator, graphic artist, and designer before following his muse full time into a world that’s magical, mythical, and mysterious. His finely textured oil works evoke Japanese woodblock prints, Chinese scroll paintings, and perhaps a touch of Van Gogh fused with David Hockney.


But the overall these masterful works are uniquely Nguyen’s, as complex as they are beautiful, as lyrical and light-seeped as they are deep.


“Mostly nature draws me to create art. I don’t do plein-air painting anymore, what I do is I go hiking to an area and I try to feel what I see. Then, I try to bring my feeling from hiking into the picture. I sometimes take a photograph and bring that home, but mostly I paint from my memory or my imagination,” Nguyen relates.


As to his process, he notes “I do planning for a little control, but during the process of painting things happen that I can’t control. There is a certain edge of mystery to it even for myself. There is something out of control in my art; my art work has its own life.”

That it does, a life that soars with color, a life that leads viewers into a world that’s rich and nuanced, moving, elegaic. You may have been there before, you may have been there in another life, or within a dream. The paintings carry you along on a journey to a place that is beyond the ordinary, beyond the defined.


“My skies used to be simpler, with more pastel colors, but the color has become darker recently. I was thinking perhaps I’ve spent more time and put more layers into the color and my technique got better,” he says modestly. “The way that I work is almost like sculpting the piece. I have to wait for each of many layers to dry. ”


As to his subjects, Nguyen explains “I travel a lot. I don’t pick a particular place in my paintings, I let it all come back to me, I combine them, the places that I’ve been.”


Whether we are looking at beautifully created images of an “Ancient Pine” – based on trees Nguyen has come to know and love in the Bristle Cone Pine Forest – or spectacular seascapes, landscapes, or his wonderful images of birth, death, and the life cycle in his “Cruelly-Go-Round” series, the overriding sensation of seeing Nguyen’s work is of discovering treasures. Sacred treasures. It is, without being overly religious, a blessing to see these works, a benediction riven with the vital sweep of a karmic life force.


Sacred Landscapes is an exhibition to savor and enjoy, and it is appropriate to see the works in the gallery space at the Monica Film Center. Each piece is its own, highly cinematic world. And if, while at the gallery space, you’re moved to take in a film, you’ll find another glimpse at Nguyen’s work, in the form of a short trailer the artist created. The trailer plays before each feature selection.


hung-8 hung-9 hung-21

The Laemmle Monica Film Center is located at 1332 2nd St, Santa Monica,  and there’s free city parking directly across the street.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Genie Davis

How We Met – Anatomy of an Indie Comedy


How We Met is an hilarious dark comedy written by Brian Flaccus and Chadwick Hopson and co-written and directed by Oscar Rene Lozoya II. A blind date that takes a turn for the definite worst, involving corrupt cops, drug dealing, and a dead body, the film has been a festival circuit darling, and DiversionsLA had the pleasure of viewing this audience-favorite at Dances with Films in Hollywood earlier this summer.

Brian and Chad had been working together for several years doing short skits, giving them some chemistry; as Brian explains, “We hadn’t taken on anything this big before but we had a pretty good sense of each others’ working styles.” Christina was newer to the group but instantly clicked with the guys, saying, “It wasn’t hard at all to get that chemistry and rhythm going.”

The film had only a thousand-dollar budget and was shot in eight days. Being flexible and working under pressure: no problem for this cast and crew. As Brian describes, “Shooting and writing for those constraints forced us to be more creative in terms of telling a good story within a small box.” It also caused them to look for any inexpensive filming opportunities that presented themselves, often relying on the kindness of others, shooting in and around Flagstaff, Ariz. According to Christina, “I loved how the whole town supported our project. Everyone wanted to be involved in some capacity, whether it was offering locations for free, cooking us meals or becoming extras when we were short of people. It felt like a village was behind us and when you’re working on a very limited budget that means the world.”


There were also some complications – the major one being sleep deprivation. Christina relates that “while trying to shoot an intimate scene at midnight, we had dudes wakeboarding while blasting loud music and we thought that would never stop.”

“Not a typical film fest movie” is how Oscar describes the film, which is possibly funnier, more subversive, and more accessible than many an art house film type selection. “We didn’t know what would happen with it, but we wanted something that would put a smile on people’s faces at the end of the day,” he says.

Safe to say, the movie accomplished just that.

  • Amelia McBride, Genie Davis

Why You Should Click Our Ads


You don’t have to buy anything. Just click and look around…each click earns us some pennies toward the upkeep on this blog.



Do you enjoy reading our art reviews?



Check out our coverage of travel spots …


…and films?




Drool over the food photos at cool restaurants?


Click, click, click.

I know, I never clicked on ads either.

But that’s how Google AdSense works, and how blogs stay in business.

And of course – please follow the blog – followers count, too, and make us smile.

Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, check out photo highlights on Instagram and follow us there too.

And most of all, read and enjoy. We love you!

Thanks! Commercial message over!

Genie Davis, Jack Burke 


Taking Another Waltz: Dances with Films 19


Dances with Films 19 finished a week ago, and the festival continued to amaze even as it drew to a close. Missed the fest this year? Then put it on your calendars for next year, and do watch for the stellar films shown at the festival. While these reviews bring those screened at the event to a close, there are several we missed seeing in the theater that we’ll be catching up on shortly.


Above, cast, crew, and advisors on The Track; with microphone, star Mariah Kirstie

The Track started as a short film by director Brett Caroline Levner, and was expanded into a feature by Levner and writer Matthew McCue. “I looked out my window one day,” Levner relates, “and I saw a 15 year old girl going in and out of cars, working as a prostitute.” Drawn to tell the story of underage, exploited children, Levner, who teaches film at University of Nevada Las Vegas, tackled the tough and moving story of Barbie.


Played brilliantly by Mariah Kirstie, the girl comes into contact with a suburban woman who has just lost her daughter, played by Missy Yager.  “I come from a theater background,” Kirstie reports, “but for this character I didn’t do anything formal. I was so connected to her, I just wanted to stay in the moment with my performance.” Yager says “This is a woman’s issue, these little girls get arrested. My character had a calling to help.”


The performances make the film, a true vehicle for social justice, into a compelling drama.



Above, star Joe Burke in Dependents Day

Dependents Day, a very different film, also began as a short. Director David Lynch (below) found star Joe Burke and a ribald romantic comedy was born. “I love nuance,” Lynch says,  “I thought he was a firecracker and all I had to do was set him off.” The versatile Lynch was also director of a dramatic documentary screening at the festival, Victor Walk, which won the audience award in the docs category; but Dependents is pure levity.


The story of a struggling actor claimed as ‘dependent” by his more successful girlfriend,  the film tackles love, LA lifestyle, and sexual mores with a witty vengence.



Star Burke says “We put so much into this, I’m so emotional to have so many people I love in one room. I feel so blessed.” Shot in just 17 days, the comedy is zany, the performances from Burke and co-star Benita Robledo pitch perfect.


Above with microphone, Kristin Wallace, co-writer/producer/star of Moments of Clarity

Moments of Clarity is a film that defies categorization. Sweet comedy, female buddy picture, road movie, witty take on independence, feminism, mental health issues – yes, all of those. A film that keeps you guessing, we loved it’s wild moments of comedy, touching sweetness, and screwball plot. Writer/producer Kristin Wallace plays lead Claire. Co-written by Wallace and Christian Lloyd, the film was directed by Stev Elam.


Claire is the daughter of a repressed agoraphobic, who teams up with a pastor’s daughter to escape their home town, fix a broken camera, and come into their own. “I wanted to create more roles for women,” says Candian-born Wallace. “I’d just moved from Toronto to LA and felt very out of place, so I kind of connected with my inner child to create this character. I just wanted to follow this character who was unabashedly herself.” Shot in 15 days, the film has the look of a much larger-budgeted feature, with bright colors, hilarious set pieces, and the edge of dark-comedy ever sharpened.


Wallace and Lloyd wrote only via email and didn’t meat Wallace and the rest of the production team until he came to the set for the last four days of shooting. “I Just sat there smiling like an idiot. It didn’t make sense that so many people came together to make such a wonderful film and have such a strong connection.”


Director Elam says “I loved that the script had so much positivity and no violence. When I read the script I thought this is like a foreign film, but they have American names. Then they said they were Canadian,” he laughs.


Whatever the origin, this is a don’t-miss. It releases in the fall of 2016, watch for it.


Rounding up the fest’s final day at the TCL Chinese was Those Left Behind, a drama that grew from the director’s involvement in a documentary about suicide.


The drama recounts a family’s struggle to come to terms with the grief over their son’s suicide 25 years earlier.

“You can live a joyous life and still struggle with depression,” says Grant Jordan, who plays the pivotal character of Jamie.


“I think a lot about loss in my own life, and how unresolved grief comes back to people, so I wanted to use that. I had an amazing cast, I asked people to be very quiet, to let the performances and the story build slowly. It was like unpeeling an onion,” director Maria Finitzo says.


Also viewed: Killing the Apologetic Girl, the fest’s audience award winner in the TV pilot category.  Writers Stephanie Little, Kimberly Aboltin – the latter also directed – have created a sweet and funny  story about the overly-apologetic Steph and her returned-from-Morocco decidedly unapologietic friend, Kim. Fresh and delightfully sarcastic, there’s a lot to like and much to want to see more of with these characters. Well-paced and exceptionally well-cast.

Don’t worry: Josephine Doe, Pop-Up, and fest top narrative award winner Virtual Revolution reviews are still coming up.

  • Genie Davis; All photos: Jack Burke