Marking a first

AMANDA Nell Eu has created history by becoming the first Malaysian female director to have her work shown at the Venice International Film Festival.

Her 18-minute Bahasa Malaysia short, Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu (right), has been selected for the Orizzonti Short Films Competition at the oldest prestigious film festival that was founded in 1932.

Eu plans to leave for the Italian city on Aug 30 and will return home after the festival ends on Sept 9. Her short will be shown on Sept 7.

"I have no idea what to expect from the festival," says the 31-year-old Kuala Lumpur-born lass. "I have never been to anything as big as this".

What is definite is that she will take the opportunity to watch a lot of films that will be screened at the festival.

"I believe that watching other people's works will help me grow as a filmmaker," says Eu who is also a film lecturer and a freelance scriptwriter.

Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu is the third short that she has directed. The story, which deals with friendship and mysticism, takes place in a remote village.

Outcast teenager Rahmah (played by Sharifah Aryana Syed Zainal Rashid) becomes friendly with a girl sporting long hair (Sofia Sabri).

Rahmah later discovers that the girl is a pontianak (vampire). Will Rahmah abandon her new best friend?
Eu describes her Rahmah character as a shy, quiet and reserved person while the girl with long hair (the pontianak) has a wild side and loves climbing trees.

When asked which character best represents her, Eu says: "I can be both. There are times when I can be quiet, and other times, I can be wild. There is a lot of me in this short film. I have bared my soul here."

Eu enjoys listening to local mystical stories, and of all the mystical characters she loves, the best is the pontianak.

"She is beautiful and gentle yet she can rip you apart," says the director. "Personally, I believe there is a pontianak in every woman".

Her story bears some similarities to the famous Swedish horror film, Let the Right One In (later remade into the Hollywood movie, Let Me In, starring Chloë Grace Moretz).

Let the Right One In deals with an awkward teenager who becomes friendly with his new neighbour. Later, the boy discovers the girl is a vampire and their friendship is tested.

Eu is not insulted by the comparison, saying that she loves the Swedish version of the film but not the Hollywood version.

She insists, however, that her short is entirely different compared to Let the Right One In.

Eu says she has her own style of directing. One of the ways she gets her actors into character is to give them a series of music that they should listen to before the camera begins rolling, as she finds that music indirectly helps the actors get under the skin of their characters.

She loves working with her actors, and states that her audition process is also unique.

"I will show the actors my script but I will never ask them to recite the lines," she says. "Instead, I will end up asking the actors a series of questions about themselves and how they would relate to the characters that they had read".

Eu admits to having a major flaw as a filmmaker: she cannot decide which scenes to retain and which scenes to cut.

"I am terrible in editing my films," she says. "I cannot be ruthless with my work. I know I need to master the art of editing".

Eu never thought of making films as her career. Instead, she took up a degree course in graphics and design in London where she had been living and studying since she was sent to a boarding school there at age 10.

But she remembered stepping into a video store in London when she was a teenager and being fascinated by a series of black-and-white 1920s films the owner introduced to her.

Those films attracted her to watch more films, especially those of the horror genre.

Her fascination with videos and films was evident in all her assignments she did for her graphics and design course, so much so that her lecturer told her she should be pursuing films instead.

She took up her lecturer's advice and graduated with a master's degree in filmmaking from the London Film School before returning home for good six years ago.

Eu loves to explore the female psyche within the context of Southeast Asia in her short films.

Currently, she is working on her first feature film.
"It is a big jump from making shorts to a feature film and I do not want to rush into it," she says. "I know many people who started their film directing career late in their life. But age should not matter in this profession".

She admits the stories she loves to tell are not commercial types and getting finance for her projects is going to be difficult. But she is not ready to change her style yet.

"I know the journey is going to be difficult but it will be worthwhile," she adds.