Review “To Singapore, with Love” 星国恋 at Busan International Film Festival 2013
Monday October 14th 2013, 11:52 am
Filed under: News
To Singapore, with Love was the Cine21 Busan Daily’s Critics Choice. Here’s their review and an interview with me.
The Cine21 Review
“This film is about Singapore, but not a single scene is from Singapore.
In the movie, several Singaporeans talk about their fatherland. Although they were exiled by Singaporean government decades ago and are still not permitted to enter the country, they have never have forgotten their country, not even a single moment. The film reflects the history of Singapore through the Singaporean exiles, who are making their way through life in foreign land such as London, Thailand, Malaysia, and they deliver a message for the future generations. To the exiles, Singapore is an object of love and hatred, where memories of the past, the scar of exile, and the ardent love that they have been carrying are all mixed-up. The scar has affected their children, some of whom also cannot get the Singaporean citizenship. However, some exiles get over the wound and rise to their feet to document their experiences in books and music, or they feel empowered to help other small nations with lesser power.
If you feel compassion or are touched while watching this documentary, To Singapore, with Love, maybe it is because of the format of the film. The production’s ability to weave sentiment from small details, food, poetry, songs, and photos, that pull out emotional connection is impressive. A new production of Director Tan Pin Pin, who has been attempting to re-compose the identity of Singapore, which was also her homeland, through her previous films Invisible City and Singapore GaGa.
To Singapore, with Love is made in 2013 with the support of Asian Network of Documentary Fund, and will be featured as a world premiere at Busan International Film Festival. So, we get to watch this film by Director Tan Pin Pin, ahead of Singaporean audiences.”
싱가포르에 관한 영화이나, 싱가포르 내부의 모습은 단 한 번도 등장하지 않는 작품. 여러 명의 싱가포르인들이 조국에 대해 말한다. 수십 년 전 싱가포르 정부로부터 추방된 그들은 노년의 나이에도 여전히 입국을 거부당하고 있지만 한순간도 조국을 잊은 적이 없다. 영화는 런던, 태국, 말레이시아 등지에서 살아가고 있는 그들의 모습을 통해 싱가포르의 과거를 돌아보고 미래에 대한 메시지를 전한다. 추방당한 이들에게 싱가포르란 과거에 대한 추억과 추방의 상처, 애틋한 마음이 한데 어우러진 애증의 대상이다. 그들이 받은 상처는 여전히 싱가포르 국적을 얻지 못하는 이후 세대에까지 영향을 미치기도 하지만, 그 상처를 딛고 일어선 어떤 이들은 책이나 음악으로 그들의 경험을 기록하기도 하고 다른 약소국을 돕는 것으로 극복의 에너지를 만들어내기도 한다.
다큐멘터리 <싱가포르에게, 사랑을 담아>를 보며 아련한 감정이 들었다면 그건 이 영화가 취하고 있는 형식 때문일 것이다. 요리, 시, 노래, 사진. 개인의 추억을 구성하는 사소한 요소들로부터 감정을 이끌어내는 연출력이 인상적이다. 전작 <보이지 않는 도시> <싱가포르 가가> 등을 통해 자신의 조국이기도 한 싱가포르의 정체성을 새롭게 재구성하려는 시도를 계속해왔던 탄핀핀 감독의 신작.
<싱가포르에게, 사랑을 담아>는 2013년 AND 펀드 지원작이다. 부산영화제에서 월드 프리미어로 상영되는 작품이니 싱가포르 관객보다 좀 더 일찍, 탄핀핀 감독의 영화를 만나보자.
The Cine21 interview
“To new generations of Singaporeans, the documentary films of Director Tan Pin Pin, would be the reference of the past that is more valuable than history books. Her fatherland Singapore is an object that has fascinated and inspired her for a long time.
Through her previous works such as Singapore GaGa (2005) and Invisible City (2007), Singapore’s social classes, languages and spaces earned a new meaning. Her new production presented in Busan this year, is also a documentary about Singapore. Is she unable to get out of the charming space of Singapore? “Ha ha, I receive proposals about filming a drama. I say, “yes I will do it”, But what can I do? Even though the opportunity to direct a dramatic movie finds me, whenever I hear anything related to Singapore, it becomes my first priority. I do not choose the subject, but the subject chooses me. It is interesting.”
To Singapore, with Love is a story of exiles, who have been banished from Singapore, and who live in foreign land. Featuring the people who cannot lay their feet on their homeland, the movie talks about Singapore from the exiles perspective. To Director Tan Pin Pin, who wanted to make ‘more a poetic movie, less a polemical
one,’ the film is a love letter to Singapore, as the title of the movie suggests. That is why she allocated much time on showing the poems and the songs written by the exiles who express their longing toward their hometown as well as the food they ate, and the photos from the past. How will Singaporeans react to the portrait of Singapore that is reflected in the eyes of the people who are outsiders but not complete strangers? She says what she wonders most is the response of the young Singaporean audience whom she hopes, will get to see this film sometime in the future.”
후대의 싱가포르인들에게 다큐멘터리 감독 탄핀핀의 영화는 역사책보다 더 소중한 자료가 될지도 모른다. 탄핀핀의 조국 싱가포르는 오랫동안 그녀를 사로잡아온 존재이자 영감의 대상이다. <싱가포르 가가>(2005), <보이지 않는 도시>(2007) 등 그녀의 전작을 통해 싱가포르의 계층, 언어, 공간, 사람들은 새로운 의미를 얻었다. 올해 부산에서 상영된 그녀의 신작 <싱가포르에게, 사랑을 담아> 역시 싱가포르에 대한 다큐멘터리다. 그녀는 싱가포르라는 매혹의 공간에서 벗어날 생각이 없는 걸까? “하하. 극영화를 해보지 않겠냐는 제안이 많이 들어온다. 그럼 나도 ‘네, 해야죠’라고 말한다. 그런데 어쩌나. 극영화를 연출할 기회가 와도, 싱가포르에 대한 어떤 이야기를 듣게 되면 그게 나의 우선순위가 되어버린다. 내가 주제를 선택하는 게 아니라, 주제가 나를 선택한다. 재밌는 일이지.”<싱가포르에게, 사랑을 담아>는 오래전 싱가포르에서 추방되어 타지에서 살아가는 망명자들에 대한 이야기다. 고국 땅을 밟을 수 없는 사람들을 주인공으로 내세우면서, 영화도 그들의 공간에 머물며 싱가포르를 얘기한다. “정치적이기보다 시적인 영화를 만들고 싶었던” 탄핀핀 감독은 영화의 제목처럼 이 작품이 싱가포르에 바치는 연서가 되었으면 좋겠다는 마음으로 촬영에 임했다. “망명자들이 고향을 생각하며 쓴 시와 음악, 고향에서 먹었던 음식과 과거의 사진을 보여주는 데 많은 시간을 할애”한 이유도 그래서다. 외부자가 되었으나 완전한 타인이라 부를 수 없는 사람들의 눈에 비친 싱가포르의 모습을, 싱가포르인들은 어떻게 받아들일까. 그녀는 “언젠가 영화를 보게 될 젊은 싱가포르 관객들의 반응”이 가장 궁금하다고 말한다.
To Singapore, with Love 星国恋
Sunday September 15th 2013, 1:45 am
Filed under: News
One and the half years in the making, my new film, To Singapore, with Love will world premiere at Busan International Film Festival on 6 October in the Documentary Competition. I look forward to going to Busan to attend the screenings and the Q&As. Looking to release the film in Singapore in early 2014.
To Singapore, with Love is a film about Singapore political exiles some who haven’t been back for more than 50 years. The exiles ruminate about their lives away from home. Its a portrait of Singapore, from the outside.
Director Tan Pin Pin attends a funeral in the hills of southern Thailand, a family reunion in Malaysia and goes for a drive through the English countryside, searching the world for the displaced souls of Singapore: different generations of Singaporean political exiles who have not been able to come home. Some have not returned for 50 years. She finds out how they have lived their lives away and how they still view the Singapore of their dreams. As they recount their lives to us, we see a City that could have been. A love letter to Singapore, shot entirely outside the country.
This film is made with the support of the Asian Cinema Fund, Busan International Film Festival, who also supported Invisible City (2007).
Get the latest film updates from the film’s facebook page
Directed, Produced and Photographed by Tan Pin Pin
2013, 70min, DCP, English, Mandarin, Malay, Hainanese
with English and Chinese subtitles
Friday January 25th 2013, 1:04 am
Filed under: News
A listing so that I can remember the year.
In Paris for the Snow City international premiere and became well-acquainted with the Georges Pompidou Centre . It opened in 1977, 35 years ago, and it is still so contemporary. To have the guts of a building all hanging out, smack in the middle of belle epoque Beaubourg…This building has to be experienced first hand. And of course Paris, the most beautiful city in the world
I went with the Singapore Heritage Society to visit Colonial Perak, Malaysia. While admiring the town planning of Taiping city centre on a blazing hot day, we stumbled upon the best Chendol in the world.
It was also wonderful to be acquainted with Ng Sek San’s architecture in Ipoh in Sekeping Kong Heng, a house within a house. I loved the tension between the rough unfinished quality and the deliberate designy feel of the space. It is as if every part of the building process was re-examined, then re-invented, even the electrical wiring methods.I would hate to be his contractor.
Saw Ian Woo’s drawings for the first time at the Singapore Art Museum’s Panorama – Recent Art from Contemporary Asia show. He presented a series of paintings which combined thick brush strokes with fine, yet deliberate pencil markings. The contrast works very well.
Green Zheng’s Chinese School Lessons Show at Chan Hampe Gallery. He essentialised the May 13 Generation into a few slogans and words (Malaya, bersatu, Where do you live, what is your name) and painted them over the Chung Cheng High School uniform. If you, like me have been immersed in that era for work, to see his interpretation of their experience as an art work found in faux-colonial Raffles Hotel gallery was sweet irony. You can view the works in the catalog here
Charles Lim’s Evil Disappears Show at FuturePerfect. David Teh curated a strand of Charles’ work focusing on the fluidity of borders. I have been following Charles work and have enjoyed his explorations. Do get your hands on the catalog containing David’s essay.
Attended the 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum, a day in 1987 where 22 activists were detained for being Marxist Conspirators. Yes, Marxist Conspirators. The organisers were very surprised that several hundred people turned up to commemorate the event. There was an exhibition on the ISA that showed a mock up of a detention cell.
Freedom Film Festival (Singapore edition). I facilitated the Q&A for two films from this Malaysian film festival with the young Malaysian directors in attendance. They were so articulate and passionate that our normally sedate Singapore audience found themselves actually asking many questions. We over-ran and everyone had to be chased out of The Substation auditorium.
Hayward Gallery – the Art of Change: New Directions from China. I had only half a day to myself while in London and torn between the Tate Modern’s newly opened Tanks and this, I went for this. So much of Chinese art is cartoonised or Ai Wei Wei-ised with the aura or dissidence, that nothing else seems to get through. This exhibition seeks to address the dark hole. What I found impressive was the documentation of the exhibtion. The website, only accessible in situ, cross referenced the artists’ work with the events (political as well as cultural) of the day as well as their relationship with each other. Particularly memorable was Xu Zhen’s suspended lady and Sun Yuan & Peng Yu’s dogs chained to running machines.
PRESENTING THE SHOWREEL
Monday January 21st 2013, 11:27 pm
Filed under: News
Hinterland Pitch Success
Monday December 10th 2012, 8:47 pm
Filed under: News
I wasn’t sure if my upcoming film, an experimental documentary called Hinterland was pitchable, but we threw our lot into it and gave it our best try. Glad the selection committee chose it as one of 8 projects. Thank you everyone who worked to shoot the trailer, design the collateral and read the drafts. Read about the other awardees here. Sindie interviews me about Hinterland here
The pitch poster is designed by KKO. As you can see, I have a soft spot for mosquito foggers and NPCC cadets.
Observational Filming: National Film & TV School, UK Short Course
Tuesday October 23rd 2012, 1:41 pm
Filed under: News
The Media Development Authority has recently re-started a Talent Assistance Scheme where media practitioners can apply for partial funding to attend media courses. Where the course is not taught in Singapore, funding can be sought for overseas courses conducted up to a limit of SGD15000/person/year. I applied for and received funding to attend the Observational Filming Short Course (5 days) at the National Film & TV School, UK (NFTS), I felt I needed a refresher for the Cinema Verite or fly-on-the-wall style of shooting that is the backbone of many indie documentaries. I found the quality of teaching and professionalism at NFTS very high. My course itself, conducted about 1-2 times a year and taught by Zillah Bowes is highly recommended.
Here is some information about the NFTS short courses offered. The wonderful thing is the range. There are industry focused courses like courses on focus pulling, there are also DIY shoot-from-the-hip kind of courses like “filmmaking on a microbudget”. The Australian Film, Television and Radio School, modeled on the NFTS also offers a similar range of short courses which are just as rigourous. Sydney is of course nearer to Singapore and less of trial to get to. The Singapore equivalent is the Singapore Media Academy. Some of the courses here are well conducted but course selection is less deep and wide-ranging.
I am reproducing my MDA Trip Report. Its detailed and let’s on what the syllabus covers.
“This course was very useful for those who are interested in the telling stories using the “verite”, “observational” or “fly on the wall” style of documentary filmmaking. It is the kind of documentary where the actions and speech of the protagonists is a main feature of the documentary, a style which relies less on voiceovers to make dramatic points.
The five-day course focused on
-How to construct a scene, in terms of what shots to take, what audio to record, what questions to ask during action.
-How to mic up the speaker
-How the camera should follow dialogue in a scene, where to place the camera
-How to pan correctly
-How to move the camera seamlessly so the edit is seamless
-How to shoot for editing
Every day we had to shoot exercises that built up towards the final project. The exercises included: how to shoot “continuous action” which is something repetitive and unchanging, say a chef kneading dough, how to shoot an unpredictable exchange between two people. The final exercise was shooting a scene with people interacting, set in a locale of our choosing.
What I learnt
Watching our exercises which we also had to edit ourselves (a good pedagogical tool to teach shooting I found! Nothing like having to edit around one’s mistakes), I felt that most of my classmates including myself don’t hold shots long enough for dramatic effect, we usually feel impatient and zoom in or cut too early. Shooting time and watching time feel different, so most people need to make a deliberate and counter-intuitive act to hold a shot longer than we normally would.
Also, when following someone, it is important to let them leave the shot, so that that can be a cut point. This is obvious, but it is easily forgotten. In a conversation, we need to shoot cut away reactions of people, so that there are edit points for dialogue. The trick is to let the audio recording continue even while we are adjusting a shot so that the audio conversation is still usable.
Other stuff covered
1 Panning/Tilting: start with the end position so we don’t have to contort ourselves
2 How to balance the camera’s weight: keep knees bent, strengthen core through yoga (!)
3 How to walk and shoot: keeping footsteps in phase with protagonists
4 Focus on faces, less on actions.
5 Heavier cameras are more stable.
6 The need to familiarise ourselves with the camera so that we know which direction to turn the rings if we want to close the aperture/zoom in or out, these should be second nature and mastered.
One of the strong points about this course is that it historicises this style of shooting. We were shown examples from the pioneers, Maysles like Don’t Look Now, Primary and Salesmen. Kim Longinotto’s Sisters-in-Law and Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go were used as current gold standard examples.
News cameraperson or cameraperson or directors wanting to shoot more verite-styled documentaries will find this course useful because of the emphasis on story-telling through the drama within the scenes. The cameraperson has to pay particular attention to what is said and direct the camera accordingly. Also it focuses on the shots needed to set up a scene.
The quality of the NFTS’ teaching is very high. Class size was small, six. The tutors were very experienced and thought carefully how to structure the course for it to make sense to us. Equipment, facilities as well as the library are also very comprehensive. At GBP700, it is very good value. Though it touches on some basics, there is enough for an experience cameraperson/director to take something away from the course too.
A demonstration on how to climb stairs smoothly while shooting
Using the eyepiece to steady the camera while shooting handheld
Critiquing each other’s work after shooting exercise
Editing our own work for the final exercise
Screening our final projects in widescreen!
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
Tuesday August 14th 2012, 4:16 pm
Filed under: News
Postcard from Atlanta Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand, where In the Mood for Love was filmed. I stayed there and it was horribly haunted. Worth the experience nonetheless
SHS Does Perak
Wednesday June 27th 2012, 7:35 pm
Filed under: News
Singapore Heritage Society organised a five day tour to Colonial Perak, Malaysia led by Dr Lai Chee Kien. It was an intense trip to places I would have never otherwise gone myself. I found myself photographing not so much the sights themselves but Singaporeans seeing this Malaysia for the first time. The very colonial Padangs, five footways and Istanas. Every thing was familiar yet unfamiliar. The photo below sees us examining the first rubber tree that was planted in Malaysia by Henry Ridley in Kuala Kangsar. The same Ridley who headed Singapore’s first Botanic Gardens. Later, I watched Amir Muhammad’s The Last Communist again, and saw the same locations and people including Taiping historian Lee Eng Kew and my beloved charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang featured from the MCP’s point of view! Love it!
New films launched online
Monday May 07th 2012, 3:06 pm
Filed under: News
Two new films of mine are launched online for the first time. The first is an animation, its my first animation, though I would also call it a dance performance. The other, about a set of graffiti found at the infamous Yangtze Cinema in Singapore. Click on the links below to view.
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A dance featuring a cast of words inspired by a thesaurus, 6 min
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A set of grafitti is found at Yangtze Cinema, 6 min
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Watch it big by clicking on the expand button, play it loud.
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These films are commissioned by the Singapore Memory Project. an ambitious project which aims to collect, tag and showcase Singapore memories.
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Making memories, S’pore-style
Singapore Memory Project aims to collect, record and preserve five million personal memories of Singapore from Singaporeans.
Tay Yek Keak, mypaper
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Wed, Apr 25, 2012
In the light of the debate over the preservation of the Bukit Brown cemetery, here are three timely short films – made by two top female Singaporean directors – which remind us of the importance of not forgetting about a thing called Memory.
The films are part of the Singapore Memory Project run by the National Library Board, which aims to collect, record and preserve five million personal memories of Singapore from Singaporeans by 2015 for future generations.
In the march of time, things get erased, misplaced, waylaid or simply unceremoniously forgotten. That is why memories are important, as the late American writer Saul Bellow reasoned, to “keep the wolf of insignificance from the door”.
Here’s what to expect.
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Director: Tan Pin Pin
This fascinating video appeals to your inner snoop, and will give you a taste of The Da Vinci Code in Singapore.
Okay, checking out the graffiti in a dingy stairwell of Chinatown’s Pearl Centre where Yangtze Cinema – that quaintly cool bastion of sleaze house-art house – used to sit isn’t exactly the stuff of books or movies.
But repeatedly scrawled on the walls there is a mysterious combination of numbers and stick figures.
Could they be gang messages or alien symbols? Or, maybe they were simply the work of some pervert recording how many dirty movies he’d seen.
The narrator of this docu-sleuthing is Debbie Ding, somebody who has been archiving signs and symbols in Singapore.
I have to confess that I’m a big fan of director Tan Pin Pin (Singapore GaGa, Invisible City). She is a premier observer of details and the invisible patterns that link them.
In Yangtze Scribbler, she stirs your curiosity enough to make you think. That’s the first step in the path to creating a memory. You’ll never forget when something intrigues you. And this short surely does.
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Director: Tan Pin Pin
The first time I saw this clever experimental clip which features words leading into more words on a starkly white background, I thought it was a student work done by a dictionary fan.
But Tan’s six-minute video, dubbed a “visual thesaurus”, imprints essential cautionary directions onto your mind the way you’d never forget a letter from a divorce lawyer.
Starting from the key opposing words of “remember” and “forget”, the trail leads off to a web of ancillary words that adds more and more meaning and purpose – and finally, danger! – to the one before.
Remember, regain, record, retrieve, observe, witness, discovery, cure, heal, unify, improve; and, conversely, forget, block, bury, erase, leave – each word is connected by moving lines which grow and evolve like a living organism.
If you’re some kind of Scrabble freak, you’re in for a hypnotic word fest. Just remember to remember the word “remember”.
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Director: Wee Li Lin
Matthew Tan is Singapore’s very own home-grown cowboy who went to Nashville, Tennessee (home of country music), in 1975 with the intention of creating a FSS (famous Singapore song).
In this short, he tells interviewer Adrian Pang that in a motel there, he and a motel employee, Bristow Hopper, came up with Singapore Cowboy, Tan’s lonesome ode to local sons in distant lands.
Director Wee Li Lin’s (Gone Shopping, Forever) approach is predictable, using yesteryear photos of cheesy hair and clothes to pile on the nostalgia.
The bit before a sit-down interview with Adrian Pang, though, is playfully cheeky as a throng of good ol’ gals line- dance, with Tan singing onstage.
It is an articulate Tan who nails down his strange affinity for all things country.
“I lived in Upper Serangoon which was a very ulu place with attap houses,” he reveals. “You cannot be any more country than that.”
National Museum’s Cinemateque Quarterly latest issue is out
Monday May 07th 2012, 2:53 pm
Filed under: News
You can download the PDF HERE.
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This 3rd issue features writings by Philip Cheah and Jasmine Nadua Trice on the state of SE Asian film archiving and a piece by Ho Rui Ann too. The publication is edited by Vinita Ramani Mohan. It features an interview with me on page 55. I’d like to thank National Museum’s team for the thoroughness and utter professionalism they approached this email interview.
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For the last decade Tan Pin Pin has used the documentary form to make visible aspects of daily life in Singapore that are selectively ignored or conveniently forgotten. Her films seek out fascinating characters with stories to tell, objects that trigger memories and traditional practices that have to be continually modified to make way for an efficient and hyper-modernised way of life. A careful observer, Pin Pin’s filmmaking shows sensitivity to a city in a perpetual state of flux, as well as a keen eye for the fatalism and dark wit that typifies Singaporean humour. In this
e-mail interview with the Cinémathèque Quarterly, she discusses her filmic beginnings, the processes behind many of her works, and why it’s important to keep asking the right questions.
What was the initial trigger that made you want to be a filmmaker?
While I was an undergraduate studying to be a lawyer, I was introduced to photography as I was browsing through the art section of the University library. I was influenced by photographers Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus. They championed a personal way of seeing and an independent way of working, both themeswhich I still subscribe to. I started out as a photographer and moved to the moving image a few years later when technology became more affordable. I wanted my images to talk and move. At that time, filmmaking was a very exotic and expensive sounding activity, but I sensed that things were about to change.
What was your very first film and did it contain within it, a hint of the themes that would come to preoccupy you?
My first film was Moving House, the 1997 version (which was an earlier version of the one most people have seen that won the Student Academy Award). This was shot in 1995 with Jasmine Ng’s help. I borrowed a 16mm Bolex and a Betacam video camera from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. This film was like a home movie because it featured my family. I filmed my family overseeing the exhumation of my great-grandfather and moving his remains to Mandai Columbarium. I wanted to make a memoriam for the first “Tan” who came to Singapore in the late 1890s from Fujian, China, and spawned four generations. It was thus a story of Singapore. I am interested in beginnings.
Was your interest in filmmaking furthered through film school and if not, how has the fact of being self-taught aided your creative process?
These were the pre-Internet days. I read voraciously at the library and was a fervent attendee at all Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) and Singapore Film Society (SFS) events but there is only so much you can do as an autodidact with no equipment. I decided to work at Mediacorp in the drama department to learn the ropes of production. I was an assistant director in the series Triple Nine and VR Man. To this day, continuity is second nature to me because of the training from that period. When I won a scholarship to attend Northwestern University’s MFA film programme 2 years later, I found I had to unlearn everything to re-learn the language of art! I am still learning.
Do you think it is more difficult being a film-maker in Singapore, as compared to elsewhere in Asia, or beyond?
Read more? Download PDF HERE