Interview - Mattie Do
Mattie Do is awe inspiring. The way she thinks, her approach to film making and her personality, just leave you feeling like this woman's got ‘it’. Despite the interview being over Zoom, I felt at ease in her virtual presence, as she flowed through our 2 hour conversation on a wave of charm. It felt like talking to a lost friend, here we are catching up on topics about identity, culture, society, the arts and even how her husband loves to make bread. I love how she described herself, as an Adidas sneaker wearing bitch with my dog, getting drunk at the bar.
I thought this was going to be a serious and focused interview on her approach to film-making and being the week, we celebrate the strength, importance and plight of women, a bit more female centric. It turned out to be everything but, and for the best. Mattie regards those interviews as dry and bland and prefers, as we have been, to go off tangents, so you get to know Mattie, for who she really is, which is more than just a film director.
'What's my process? Not falling out of a god damn tree, that's my process, not getting bitten in the bum by a snake when I go take a pee.' There you go film buffs. Happy? You want to know why and how she makes the films she does, or approaches them in the way she does? Well, you need to get to know Mattie Do first.
'In the old days, 100s of year ago before we were the big cities, we lived in villages... and every morning, it wasn't like one family had a rice field they had to tend to, they also had these big, massive rice fields that the village sometimes had to take care of together and everyone had to be responsible for it and if you were the one asshole who didn't wake up in the morning and help everyone else and lied...and they see you getting drunk, it's shameful and you've disappointed the whole village and Laos people have grown up with this kind of feeling and feel responsible for each other.' Mattie 'translates' her husbands' observations when talking about Laos' society from a white male/ outsiders perspective, as we talk about the similarities and differences between how the East and West are dealing with COVID. Having lived in America and recently been offered work there, Mattie understands the ‘Western’ mindset and comments on how bad the US and UK have both been in dealing with the pandemic. ‘I noticed that with the Brits and the Americans, it’s hasn’t gotten better, but people are acting like it’s gotten better. It’s a little strange...’
Wrapped in my cocoon, I’m surprised when she makes the comparison to Loas, her native homeland, ‘...just yesterday we got 2 cases and we’re all freaking out, oh my god, oh my god...we’re so normal now, I went to a concert last week and moshed!’ She laughs, I don't. When did we last go to a concert?
Religion and collectivism has shaped eastern societies and identities, but in the west we follow false idols. 'Look at social media. The influencer is more popular than the celebrity...its really deceptive, they're not living there best life...it's that whole idea of wolf in sheep's clothing.' We start goofing around mocking the voices and mannerisms of influencers and wondering why do they all talk the same, no matter what language they speak? Turns out we could both become Youtubers as our impressions were a bit too close to reality. I don't have an excuse, but Mattie had to film herself for a legitimate Laos based project.
Keeping on the theme of cultures and identity, I wanted to know Mattie's 2 pence worth on Minari being nominated foreign language and not best picture, as we spoke briefly about what makes a Laos film Laos. Her thoughts were this simple 'When I think about Minari, I think of a Korean perspective of an American story...it should have qualified for best picture regardless of language, especially as it an American fiIm...the team was American right?' I put it to her, that maybe where in a time where some films, much like its characters, are lost between who it is and who it wants to be. 'I'm a mutt. I'm Laos and Thai and Vietnamese. I'm South-East Asian the way a lot of white people think they're European. So, I understand being in this in-between space. What if I went to America and made it completely in Laos language? Because, its me making it, it would be super in-between, how do you even define that? I really enjoy films that are a little hard to define! '
Could she see Laos or perhaps South-East Asia, have it's Hollywood trend, much like Korea at the moment? She comments on how there has been ripple effects from audiences in the past, having an interest in say J-horror and looking to see what other Asian countries have to offer. Her little seed of doubt though comes from, Japan, Hong-Kong and Korea have had something more to offer. Struggling to make myself understood, I made the comparison with food and she totally got it. 'Thai food is huge thing right? Westerns love Thai food, but when they try real Thai food, it's really difficult for them to handle. In reality Laos' food is very rustic Thai food, but people don't know that and Laos' food could be trendy too, but because of that love of the familiar, that's that hurdle we have to overcome.'
Laos seems like it's in a great place creatively speaking, because unlike Korea, it's not having to chase its tail for another success like Parasite and she totally agrees. Chantaly, Mattie's first film, was the 13th film to be made in Laos! Even her new film is in the low 20s, so the creative freedom and opportunities are there, just not the economic infrastructure.
I then go on to ask if her moniker of being Laos' first female director, carries weight or if it's become a burden.
'By pure accident, without intentions I somehow written myself into the film history of an entire country...that part is super awesome, I'm in film history forever! The burden on me is actually...what's most difficult, most challenging for me is there are a lot people who think that I've only been able to do what I do, attract any attention, because I'm using that title, I'm using I'm a woman and I'm a woman making film. They're people who haven't even watched my work because, they assume its low quality, they assume it's not inventive because, they think...everybody has to like her because she's the only woman making films in the country.' She's a little annoyed, but explains in a little more depth about how film festivals or people in the industry will take note of you and watch your films out of curiosity, but don't care too much afterwards if you are a 3 legged cat making films, there's a standard to keep up with regardless and you can easily be forgotten.
So she's trying to leave a legacy with substance. Not falling into other peoples traps of what they think she should be making. She's happy to mentor interns, if they are willing to pee in the jungle and not act like divas. She, the director doesn't get pampered, so why should they? I wondered if there is a small wave of female directors who are nibbling at her ankles, now she's opened the door. 'We do have a lot women making short films and stuff and I hope that it develops into something awesome...I'm really happy about that because, that's their first step in becoming feature film directors.'
What about the Laos film scene in general? 'It's exciting for us all in Laos as film-makers to be at the birthing point of what we could say is new Laos cinema...what's actually really cool about being a Laos film-maker at this time is we can define what Laos cinema is, because it hasn't been established before! So, we're the ones who get to pioneer and established that and I can't wait to be an old lady and watch the young new film-makers break everything I established.'
Having learnt that Anthony Burgess wrote A Clock Work Orange as a sonata, being himself a pianist. I had to ask Mattie, being a former ballerina, if she took the same approach to her film making. She was overjoyed that connection had been made 'All my films are failed ballets...there's so manty ballet references in the first two films. The first film is literally based on Giselle. The second film has so many little nods and inspirations inspired by La Bayadere, the music is even composed around it! And if you're a hardcore ballet dancer, like really hardcore, there's this moment where the husband and wife are having a romantic date and their being all fancy. They open this bottle of wine and in the background there's this ultra piece of classical music playing, The Kingdom of Shades...I choreograph my films like ballet.'
Mattie Do is a real gem-uine and unpretentious woman. She almost has every right to be a prima donna, however, if that were the case, this interview would be very different. Her love and passion for film and Laos are boundless, you can hear it in the way she speaks, it's positively infectious. So more power to her.
Follow Mattie on and @mangosodium
Header photo: Madis Veltman