December 02, 2016

As Laos' First Female Filmmaker, Mattie Do Shows What's 'Behind the Doors'

By:  Audrey Cleo Yap, NBC News (USA), November 18, 2016

Mattie Do never intended on becoming Laos's first female filmmaker.

In 2010, the former cosmetologist and ballet school director moved to the country's capital of Vientiane to care for her widower father. Her screenwriter husband, Christopher Larsen, wanted to get involved in the local film scene and asked Do to mediate cultural and language barriers at a meeting with the heads of Lao Art Media, one of few production companies in the country at the time.

Things seemed to be going to be going smoothly until they asked Larsen if he could direct films. He couldn't.

"He's like, 'Well, she can do it. She speaks Lao.' And I was the only 'she' standing in the room," Do told NBC News.

Up until that point, she had no formal film education and only limited experience on movie sets as a freelance make-up artist.

When the couple got home — and after what Do said was a lot of yelling — Larsen handed her a textbook he had hung onto from film school. And so began Do's directing education.

"He said, 'Oh my god, look, you ran a ballet school. You've worked with children. That's not so different from working with actors,'" Do said.

"I just feel like I'm married to a woman who can do anything she decides to do. And sometimes I want a screenwriting job, and what I have to do to get it is trick my wife into becoming the only female film director in Laos," Larsen told NBC News, laughing.

This thrown-under-the-bus moment led to her first film, 2013's "Chanthaly," a horror feature about a young middle-class woman who starts seeing visions of her dead mother. It's the first genre film written and directed in Laos and was partly inspired by the passing of Do's mother.

According to Do, it's also the first female-driven film in Laos's limited cinematic history.

"No one had ever really seen a female character that was the star of the film, that carried the entire film on her shoulders, that wasn't just an appendage to a guy," she said. "That just cried because he broke her heart or they weren't getting married."

To date, the country has only produced 13 feature films. Do has made two of them.

Born in Los Angeles to a Vietnamese father and Laotian mother, Do was raised in Merced in California's Central Valley. After high school, she earned her cosmetology license and eventually made her way to Italy, where her husband was living and working as a screenwriter.

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