A luxury car glides down a jungle road at night. Inside are a young Elvis impersonator and a mysterious woman. They drive on through the darkness, as the man begins to whistle ... So begins Graceland, one of the films screening in the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival's Asian Shorts programme today. Although it's only 17 minutes long, the short packs an emotional punch, and highlights the talent of its director, Anocha Suwichakornpong. When Graceland this year became the first Thai short film to be selected for Cannes, it turned the film-school graduate into one of the leading hopes of Thai art cinema. In person, Suwichakornpong (below) seems younger than her 30 years. Perhaps it's her cropped haircut, which evokes the gamine look of Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, or her girlish voice. But this cutesy exterior belies her maturity and the long journey it took to get behind the camera. On the phone from Bangkok, Suwichakornpong says she never expected to become a filmmaker. Growing up around Pattaya, where her parents ran a jewellery business, she had an early interest in art, and studied jewellery design (to help with the family trade) at university in Britain. But during further studies, film began 'bothering' her. She recalls watching Luis Bu?uel's Un Chien Andalou. 'I thought it was the weirdest film,' she says. 'It somehow stayed in my mind.' When she was 22, watching Godard's French new wave classic Contempt sparked her desire to make films, but she pushed the thought away. Three years later, however, working in the family business, the idea kept returning. 'I thought, if I just let it go like this, when I'm 50 or 60 I will really regret it,' she says. Which led her to Columbia University film school in New York City, and a mere two years later, to Cannes with her thesis project film. Graceland also returned 'home' in a sense in August, when Bangkok's Thai Short Film and Video Festival screened it and two other student projects in a programme dedicated to her work. Whereas most Columbia students shoot their films in New York, Suwichakornpong consciously decided to produce most of hers during school breaks at home. Full Moon, her end of first-year project, is a story of three Thai teen friends on a road trip to an island's full-moon party, and the relationship truths they discover. Ghosts begins as an experimental series of interviews and improvisations with an ageing American actress, but switches midway to a video diary about Suwichakornpong's mother back in Bangkok, and explores the fine line between fiction and reality. 'In Ghosts, I felt I could try to do something not so culturally specific, more universal, but you can see how the film came back to Thailand halfway through. I was missing it or something.' Even though Graceland was shot on 35mm with two professional producers and has gone on to festivals the world over, Suwichakornpong says she feels outside of the Thai film mainstream. Chalida Uabumrungjit, director of the Thai Short Film and Video Festival, says she hopes Suwichakornpong will lead 'a new breed of Thai film scene, especially as a woman filmmaker'. Suwichakornpong wasn't the first Thai to study film in the US - critics' favourite Apichatpong Weerasethakul, for one, attended the School of Art Institute of Chicago, but when compared to him, Suwichakornpong demurs. 'I've just made a string of short films,' she says. That's how Weerasethakul started as well, and she could be taking the next step. Her feature screenplay The Sparrow (Jao Nok Krajok) will participate next month in the Nantes Festival's Produire au Sud, a workshop for the international co-production market. And with the momentum she's gained during the past many months, Suwichakornpong's debut feature may soon be in the works. What inspires her to keep making films? 'It's almost like an adrenaline rush ... I feel so alive and I don't get that feeling anywhere else.'