A Merced woman is making waves in the film industry across the globe. Mattie Do moved to the Southeastern Asian country of Laos in 2010, and since then she has brought life to an industry that was nearly non existent in that area.
Without a formal education in film, she never planned to get into the film industry, yet two films later, she is making a name for herself.
Only about a dozen feature horror films have been made in the country's history.
"I never thought I would be living in Laos, and I never thought I would be a filmmaker," Do said.
Her parents fled Vietnam during the Vietnam War and she was born in Southern California.
Her family moved, and Do grew up and went to school in Merced and graduated from Golden Valley High School.
Now she has ended up across the globe in Vientiane, the Capitol of Laos, after living in Italy as a ballet instructor.
"I came back to Laos simple because my father came back to Laos," she said.
Do has lived there since 2010 with her husband, Christopher Larsen, who is a screenwriter.
"She can do it, she can direct, she will direct for you."
Larsen started working in film after the move, and the crew needed a director. Larsen knew just the person.
"And he said, ‘she can do it, she can direct, she will direct for you,’" Do said. "’She speaks Lao,’ and literally I was the only she standing in the room. And I was like, ‘did some girl walk in what?’"
The ballerina had no experience or education in filmmaking, but that is when her career began and her first film produced.
" was made on a $5,000 budget.
It is a horror feature about a young woman who sees visions of her dead mother.
She and her team made the film for the company Laos Media and didn't expect to get much out of it.
It was the first horror film produced in Laos so they screened it at a local film festival, and a journalist from Thailand wrote an article on the film.
Little did they know that would lead to more attention.
"All of a sudden, this guy named Tom Brown from a company from XYZ found the article and got in contact with me and wanted to see the film. And XYZ is a huge company in America," Do said.
She shared the film and from there it took off.
"When I finished the film, he asked if he could recommend me for some film festivals and I said ‘why not?’"
This film was screened at a number of film festivals around the world – including Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas – the largest genre film festival in the U.S.
She said the international attention was surprising but welcome.
"I come from Merced; I thought a film festival was when we all sit around in cafeteria in our high school and people give you those gallons of punch and cups and pop some popcorn out of a microwave for you," she said as she laughs.
Her second film "Dearest Sister" was released in 2016, and it was created on a little bit of a bigger budget thanks to a crowd funding effort online.
The film got even more attention at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
"When I heard the script for the second film was accepted to the film lab – they have two prestigious film labs there. And it was selected to the exclusive one where they only pick 10 filmmakers out of a pool of a bunch, I read the letter three times – I didn't believe it; I thought there must be a mistake."
Do is making history in the cinema world and especially in Laos.
"I read the letter three times – I didn't believe it; I thought there must be a mistake."
"In my time that I have been here, I have seen the cinema industry growing," she said.
Her background in ballet and Laos traditions can been seen throughout her films.
Do is about to start working on her third film with a bigger budget of $300,000.
She still doesn't see herself as a successful filmmaker, but said she is happy with her success in the industry so far.
"I can attribute it to dumb luck," she said.
Do said she doesn't plan to move back to the U.S. and hopes to start filming her next movie this fall.