The Pontianak comes from a place of abuse, dying when she carries life inside her, and she finds strength out of it. She is raw, primal, carnal and sexual, and she is beautiful and has luscious, long black hair. She will seduce you, draw you in and you will feel her wrath. The two teenage girls in my film are both Pontianaks in their own ways. Every woman is a Pontianak in her own way. -Amanda Eu
Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu is a short film that tells the story of two teenage outcasts who form an uncanny friendship in their remote village. As the girls discover each other’s clandestine aspects, she observes the changes in her new friend to the point of violence, monstrosity and affection. We had the chance to talk to the director of the 17 minute short film featuring Sharifah Aryana and Sofia Sabri. Here’s what came out of our interview with Amanda Eu.
What led you to creating this short film/the inspiration behind it?
My friend had mentioned about the Astro Shortcuts workshop to me and told me to join. I didn’t have anything prepared for a story so I decided to list down a few things that I was interested in – and on that list was a teenage Pontianak. I’ve always loved South East Asian myths and the ghost stories that come from here. I want to question and explore why they exist so strongly in our culture. The Pontianak has also been a favourite monster of mine for a long while now. I see so much strength in her, I love her beauty and her wildness – I feel that every woman has that.
So from the workshop, the idea from my film developed into what the short film is today. It became a very personal story to me, about friendship and the strength that two teenage girls can have.
You had mentioned that you see the two characters in ‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’ as Pontianaks in their own way; what is your version of the Pontianak that defines you?
Does your question mean what is Amanda Nell Eu as a Pontianak? If that is the case, the short film actually answers that question. This whole story and film has my whole heart and soul in it growing up as a woman, my experiences as a woman (and this is still ongoing by the way!). I suppose my film is my Pontianak because my film is me. You will see who I am when you watch it. Maybe both of the characters are me as well!
But aside from that I think women in general are wild and tame and beautiful and soft and frightening and strong and weak and brave and tender… all at the same time. Is that not a Pontianak as well?
Do you struggle being not only a woman but also an Asian woman in the film industry that is mainly dominated by men/Caucasian men?
I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t a struggle being a woman in this industry. Not only just in this country, but the film industry in general is a huge boy’s club, and in the rare times there are women in high positions, sometimes you will find them even more unsupportive towards other women. I’m only speaking from my own experience of course, but you do get picked on by being a woman on set. Especially if you’re one that speaks up. I’ve actually been told to not speak up and stay quiet because it would offend other crew members, because of my age and gender.
That’s only one example within many more others. All I can say is that it’s a problem, it always has been a problem but that doesn’t stop any of us.
I’m very careful about choosing my team and because of that, there is no issue on race or gender in the filmmaking process. If you work with the right people who have respect for each other based on their work, then it isn’t a struggle at all. What is most important is the work, and making the best film possible.
Who inspires you in filmmaking? Do you tend to follow a certain style from previous film directors and writers or do you ignore that altogether and make your own flair?
I get inspired by a lot of films and filmmakers, and then I also get inspired by things outside of film – books, music, art, theatre and of course the people and the environment around me.
I’m not too keen on thinking about styles in any art form. Sure there are movements in art, and also in film, but each director should be unique – or at least the directors I love are like that anyway! Every decision is made because of the story that is being told.
If there is a style that dictates a piece, it’s because the story dictates it. If it’s a recognisable auteurial “style” by a director, it’s because the director’s unique voice and personality dictates it. My whole journey in film so far has been to find what my voice and personality is in film.
Do you feel pressured that you need to represent Malaysia in the Orizzonti Short Films Competition at the 74th Venice International Film Festival? Or do you think that it is your own work hence, your own representation and achievement?
I don’t feel pressured about that because I already feel that I am representing Malaysia this year in Venice. Being selected to be in competition is a great honour, and I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to tell my story, as a female filmmaker telling an honest story about women. It’s rare enough to get these type of stories made in Malaysia, and the fact that it’s going to such a prestigious film festival hopefully shows that we should make a space for more “riskier” stories ie. stories that are not action or horror movies which are supposed to be guaranteed box office hits… even though there is never a guarantee to anything really.
‘Lagi senang jaga sekandang lembu’ is an old age saying referring to the difficulties of raising a daughter; why did you choose this proverb as the title of your film? What does it mean to you?
I think it’s very suitable to the short film, which is about two teenage girls running around, doing their own thing. It’s funny how there are so many stories about boys simply roaming around the place and hardly any about girls. Should girls behave differently then?
I decided on this title because I am asking back at the proverb, why is it so difficult to raise a daughter? And why does a daughter get compared to a herd of cows even? Do they not deserve a human comparison?
You should google image search that proverb and see the kind of images that pop up, it’s quite shocking and absolutely ridiculous. I’m trying to fight this notion that girls should be protected at home and boys can go about climbing trees or getting into big adventures.
In my film, the girls climb trees, the girls run around as they please, and the girls get into their own big adventures.
What do you hope that viewers will take from your film/the impact that you are aiming for?
I’m just happy if there are viewers for my film. I don’t have any expectations from an audience because at the end of the day, they are the audience and they can take whatever they want from it.
I had pretty good training at film school where after every film we made, we had to present it to the whole school at the end of term. And after your film is screened, you sit in front of the students and the entire staff and start receiving critique for your work. You are never allowed to defend yourself and explain things to them, and instead sit in silence taking everything in. And this is what cinema is – it’s not like you are able to attend every screening of your film with a Q&A and explain to your audience why they didn’t understand your story.
All I’ve done is put myself out there and given what I wanted to give into my work. The rest is up to audience to take on whatever impact or anything else they wish to take from the film!
Girls are made from sugar, spice & everything nice. But, the short film, ‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’, seem to disagree. pic.twitter.com/mT5HVmeugH
— The Daily Seni (@thedailyseni) August 8, 2017