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“Each Dawn a Censor Dies” – Jeu De Paume

The following article was originally published on Jeu De Paume.

Each Dawn a Censor Dies by Nicole Brenez.

Tan Pin Pin. No vacation from politics.

Filmmaker, photographer and artist Tan Pin Pin is among the great contemporary voices of the art scene in Singapore, the city state to which most of her output has been devoted. Her work initially impresses through its formal diversity, unfailingly offering the radicalisation of a filmic resource: a record of the exhumation and removal of a tomb (belonging to the director’s grandparents) in the name of rapid urbanisation – Moving House (version one, 1997) – rubs shoulders with the immolation of a Barbie doll in Microwave (2000); a 38-minute sequence shot crossing the island taken from the Pan Island Expressway – 80km / h (2003) – is followed by a pointillist portrait of the city through its banned songs and dialects in Singapore Gaga (2005); a strictly visual kinetic collage of footage from television archives showing four decades of national celebration – 9th August (2006) – gives way to a strictly textual semantic interrogation of the word “remember” in Thesaurus (2012). If every one of these films boasts its own unique formal apparatus, they are all energised by the same critical task of describing, safeguarding and promoting a multi-ethnic Singapore, one that remains both multi-cultural and fraternal in the face of the government’s coercive standardisation policies. Moving House (version two, 2001), Gravedigger’s Luck (2003), Invisible City (2007), The Impossibility of Knowing (2010) and Yangtze Scribbler (2012) all confront death, from the results of criminal lives to the sometimes tiny vestiges human existence leaves behind, as well as providing support for those in danger of simply vanishing without trace. Such a sense of responsibility to collective history, which carries living individuals and dead bodies along with it like wisps caught in a whirlwind, actively seeks out every possible visual and aural means of first countering the Singapore authorities’ artificially imposed view of progress as a forced march away from independence, then repairing the damage caused to collective memory, culture and emotion.

From her first short film, Lurve Me Now (1999), an erotic fantasy involving two Barbie dolls – anticipating Albertina Carri’s Barbie también puede estar triste (‘Barbie Gets Sad Too’, 2001), shot in Argentina two years later – Tan Pin Pin has endured censorship. Her first documentary to achieve international success, Singapore Gaga, encountered censorship problems simply because the use of an ambiguous word in Malay – “animals” – at first caused it to be labelled a “threat to national security.” But with To Singapore, With Love (2013), which gave voice to Singapore’s political exiles, the entire film was banned, an act of prohibition which has not only been maintained to this day, but also extended to all distribution media.

Tan Pin Pin has made all her films available on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/tanpinpin
A useful list of films censored in Singapore

Nicole Brenez
Translated by Brad Stevens

Nicole Brenez: Can you tell us about your family background, education, artistic environment? Did your education in Law at Oxford, UK, helped you to confront situations of censorship?

Tan Pin Pin: I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s Singapore, at a time where economic imperatives trumped all other imperatives. The whole nation was marshaled into wealth creation and improving our GDP. My growing up years were surrounded by songs such as “Good better best, never let it rest!” Though our material quality of life improved quickly, civil rights were suspended. For example I found out recently while researching To Singapore, with Love, that over 800 people were arrested under the Internal Security Act in the 1970’s alone, a huge percentage for a small population of 2.3 million. In the days before the Internet, the arrests went under the radar, people simply disappeared or were later exiled. There is so much in the 1970’s that remains unaccounted for in the Singapore story.

My parents were the first few in their families to go to university. They were architects so we had a very interesting childhood spending weekends visiting construction sites. I went to state schools where art had a very small part in the curriculum. In my teens, I discovered the BBC World Service on the FM dial. By the time, I finished secondary school, I knew I wanted to get out of Singapore to go to England where it seemed more free and more humane.

I won a scholarship to study law at Oxford University, law for no particular reason other than I was more likely to secure a Singapore scholarship with that course. At Oxford, I discovered photography and art books in the city library. Within the first semester, I knew I was in the wrong course, I should have gone to art school instead. But I decided to finish the course to keep my scholarship. Meanwhile, I spent all my free time taking photos and developing prints in the dark room. If I had not left Singapore, I am not sure I would be making films today. In those striven times, art-making was too frivolous an undertaking and I would have had no support.

I was a lawyer for six days before I left the profession. In fact, I made my first film, Moving House (1996) as a trainee lawyer. Through the law course, I understood how power comes to be and is devolved. I also learnt the difference between being legally right and morally right. In Singapore, the two are sometimes very far apart.

NB: What was your first encounter with Singaporean censorship? Can you explain the alleged reasons? Did you made any cut in the film?

TPP: My first encounter with Singapore censorship and self-censorship was meeting the first opposition Member of Parliament, the legendary J.B. Jeyaretnam [Leader of the Workers’ Party, center-left, from 1971 to 2001] on the street in the 1990’s. Through a series of defamation suits by the PAP [People’s Action Party, center-right, ruling the country continuously since 1959] leaders, he became bankrupt so he couldn’t run for office. I saw him on the street, ringing a bell, selling copies of his Party’s publication, I wanted to buy a copy but I was too scared to be seen doing that, as if I would be guilty by association, of what, I wasn’t sure.

To this day, the sight of this solitary man seeking out a space to speak, and my woeful avoidance of him still haunts me. Later, two Singapore film lecturers made a short documentary about him, Vision of Persistence [2002, by Kai Sing, Mirabelle Ang and Christina Mok]. The film was mysteriously pulled out from the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) last minute. I heard the filmmakers were threatened and the film has disappeared.

My first personal encounter of censorship was for a student short I made, Lurve Me Now (1999). It was slated to show at SIFF. It featured a Barbie doll being felt up by a hand amidst heavy breathing. The film was banned by the censors for, of all things, its sound track. Censorship through a direct film ban, through redacting Chinese dialects in the mass media in the late 1970’s or through the sudden withdrawal of the Vision of Persistence, was all it took to render the something non-existent. I did not make any recuts for the censors, it did not occur to me to bend to their will.

NB: When you decided to shoot To Singapore, With Love (2013), were you already aware that your documentary will endure banning?

TPP: I did not start out to make this documentary. Like many of my other films, To Singapore, with Love took shape organically. I was making a video about Singapore’s coastline from afar. In the process of researching the idea of being outside, I stumbled upon Escape from the Lion’s Paw [Escape from the Lion’s Paw: Reflections of Singapore’s Political Exiles, Soh Lung Teo, Yit Leng Low, Singapore, Function 8, 2012], a book of first-person accounts by Singapore political exiles, people who remain outside the country, but not by choice. I decided to interview one of them, Dr. Ang Swee Chai, based in London, who by chance was in nearby Malaysia at that time. I was so moved by her account of exile that I decided to change focus and To Singapore, with Love was born. Later, I interviewed eight more exiles in London, Malaysia and Thailand. Some have not been back for more than 50 years. They talk about why they left, but they mostly talk about their lives today and their relationship with Singapore. They were of different political persuasions and different generations of activists. Some were communists, some were student activists, others were from the Christian Left.

I made this film because I myself wanted to better understand Singapore. I wanted to understand how we became who we are by addressing what was banished and unspoken for. I was also hoping that the film would open up a national conversation to allow us to understand ourselves as a nation better too.

I realised that this film could be banned when I was editing. Two films featuring former long-term political detainees talking about their detention without trial by another Singaporean director, Martyn See, were banned too [Said Zahari: 17 years, 2007, about Said Zahari ; Lim Hock Siew, 2010]. I knew that any suggestion that the Internal Security Act was used to detain and silence political opponents (rather than just communists) would be problematic to the state’s cleaned up version of the Singapore story.

Though fearful, I finished the film, partly inspired by the idealism of the people I had interviewed. I only exhaled when I sent the film out of the country. It premiered at Busan International Film Festival. In the end, the film was indeed banned because it was a “threat to national security”.

NB: Did all the exiles you wish to interview agreed to be filmed? Were they under surveillance?

TPP: The people I contacted all agreed to be filmed. I had sent them my older films so that they could get a sense of my work. I am not sure if they are under surveillance. They have been away from Singapore for more that 35 to 50 years.

NB: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared: “the political exiles featured in the documentary should not be allowed the chance to air their own ‘self-serving’ accounts of the fight against communism”. Is it usual in Singapore that a PM makes public comments about a film?

TPP: The bedrock of the Singapore narrative is built upon her fight against the communists more than 50 years ago. Using all the laws and armory at our disposal, we won that war and look how far we have come today. Hence it behooved Prime Minister, when queried, to justify the ban using the same Cold War rhetoric that the modern Singapore state was built upon.

The film’s main subtext, that in certain cases, the state overused its powers to silence political opponents was not addressed. Instead, the PM and all the government responses harped on the crimes committed by communists (which those interviewees who were communists did not deny) totally ignoring the substance of the film, which shows what a self-serving act of censorship the ban was.

The PM also said that my film was “one-sided”. I do not believe that balance or neutrality are useful ways to think about history, especially Singapore history. I am interested in providing alternatives. In fact these alternatives ‘balance’ out the dominant accounts propagated by textbooks and state propaganda.

The whole event clarified for me that we do not own our history. Films are banned or disappear, archives even those relating to events that happened more than 50 years ago are out of bounds, all to protect the official version of our history.

NB: A collective of 350 Singaporean organized a travel in Malaysia to attend a screening of To Singapore, With Love. Can you tell us about such an event? Is your film still prohibited in Singapore, even through the internet?

TPP: If one wants to learn about the reach of power in Singapore, they could study the immediate aftermath of this ban.

The film was originally slated to world premiere with my other films Invisible City (2007) and Singapore GaGa (2005) in a triple-bill organised by National University of Singapore (NUS). When the ban was announced, the university remained silent even though they were the organisers of the presentation. In less dysfunctional democracies, the organisers would be the first to speak for the film.

Instead, on the same day, 40 leading artists, filmmakers and civil society activists, most of whom had not seen the film, spoke for the film with a short statement asking the censors to reconsider the ban and to allow different expressions of our past.

A week later, several twenty something civil society activists, using social media, found anonymous donors and chartered coaches to go to neighbouring Johor Bahru, Malaysia, to watch the film where it was slated to screen at the Freedom Film Festival (FFF). So one afternoon, more than 350 Singaporeans crossed the border, curious to see what the fuss was about. FFF is a small travelling human rights festival. To cope with the unexpected swell in numbers, they opened more screening rooms throughout the hotel. We had to use bed sheets to erect screens and borrow extra projectors. I never would have imagined a Singapore film premiere (in Malaysia!) such as this, but at the same time I felt glad that Singaporeans marched with their feet to go where Singapore laws cannot reach to find out for themselves.

Today, the film can screen privately in Singapore, but public and ticketed screenings are forbidden, DVDs cannot be sold here too. The film can screen overseas, so apart from the festival circuit, Singaporeans overseas have also organized public screenings in Australia, Hong Kong, UK, USA and Canada. Singaporean students in USA and London have also organised campus tours of the film.

It can be seen online on the Vimeo VOD site, but if you access it from Singapore, you will see a “Not available in your region” message. The censors prohibited me to let those with Singapore IP addresses have access.

NB: How do you feel about the future of Singapore, which, in a way, is the time set in your new work, Pineapple Town (2015)?

TPP: Pineapple Town is a short film that was commissioned to celebrate 50 years of Singapore’s Independence. In the film, a mother tries to find out more about her adopted baby’s past. The final part of the film is set in the future where the adoptive mother brings her young daughter to visit the little Malaysian town where she was born to acknowledge her past, even the troubled bits. The film is hopeful, it shows it is ok to face up to the past, not bury it.

NB: Would you have an advice to formulate for filmmakers in repressive or even dictatorial situations from all over the world?

TPP : I proffer this advice that was given by Dr. Poh Soo Kai at his book launch. He is a former political detainee who was featured in To Singapore, with Love. His book is called Life in a Time of Deception [Function 8 Ltd and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat, 2016].

He quotes from Paul A. Baran [Professor of Economics at Stanford University], who said in 1931, in the looming spectre of Hitler: “And if the tribulations of the political humdrum and the disappointments of our last decade have caused many of you to desire some political tranquility, to desire a vacation from politics, you must repress this attack of weakness with all your might. This desertion from the political battleground is the greatest crime against humanity that one can commit, because the others, the reactionary backwards striving forces never quit, never allow themselves a vacation from politics. And if you, infuriated and embittered, now renounce the political struggle; if you sulkily stand off to the side with a dismissive wave of your hand; then you leave the politics to the others; then you subject yourself to their domination.”

Official website
http://www.tosingaporewithlove.com
Full account of the ban
http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/documentary-in-asia/to-singapore-with-love-documentary/

Paris-Singapore, March 2016.
Deep thanks to Silke Schmikle.

“7 Letters is Singapore’s entry to the Oscars” – Mocha Chai Laboratories

This interview was originally published in an email newsletter by Mocha Chai Laboratories on Dec 18, 2015.

Mocha Chai Labs Newsletter Header

We speak to Tan Pin Pin, the sole female director among the seven. A documentary filmmaker, she tells us this is her first piece of fiction work since her film school days.

PINEAPPLE TOWN allegorises political separation as familial separation as Singaporean adoptive parents search Malaysia for the biological mother – the “real” mother – of their daughter.

What is the inspiration behind your film in 7 Letters?
I wanted to make a film about a family’s healing and reconciliation with the past. I think as we move forward, we should try to understand how we came to be. I also wanted to reflect on our relationship with Malaysia.

As film directors, what do you consider as most important in a film? Eg. Story, Script, Production Value, Casting
Concept is important, a holistic idea that is coherent, that is followed throught. I don’t think a film needs to be realistic or have great production values, but it must be coherent. Having said that, since I was going for realism in this film, I learnt the importance of casting, I never had to do it before! I am glad the actors came on board. We paid special attention to the smaller roles too.

How would you rank, in order of importance what makes a good film in your opinion?
1) Story/scripting or concept
2) Casting (where applicable)
3) Editing
4) Cinematography/Location/Set design/makeup/costume (all related)
5) Realistic scheduling

What can we look forward from Tan Pin Pin for the upcoming year?
New documentary coming out in 2016.

Anything you would like to add?
I’m very happy (on the Oscar selection) and hope for the best! Thanks very much for the effort, Isnor (our colorist) put into the film.

Tan Pin Pin’s Reel

A 3 min showreel of Pin Pin’s films.

Pineapple Town (2015)

Ning stares out the window_Pineapple Town
 
Official 7 Letters Website: 7letters.sg
Watch Trailer here

Starring Lydia Look and produced by The Creative Room, Pineapple Town 北干那那 is a short fiction film that is part of the 7 Letters film omnibus. It features seven short films from seven Singapore filmmakers making a short film each to celebrate the 50th year of Singapore’s independence. The omnibus premiered at the refurbished Capitol Theatre on 24 July 2015 and it opened theatrically shortly after. It has garnered unanimous rave reviews. Pineapple Town is written and directed by Tan Pin Pin. It is her dramatic film in 15 years.

Pin Pin’s segment Pineapple Town is about an adoptive mother who makes a road trip to a small Malaysian town to meet her daughter’s birth mother. It is about how she and her family cope with the unexpected outcome of that visit. As it is the only film that is set in the future, it is perhaps the most aspirational film of the omnibus.

15 min, 16:9, DCP, English and Chinese Subtitles

Reviews

Ampulets: “Song to a lost Malaya and a different future”
The Straits Times “All directors turn in top grades for SG50 film project 7 Letters”

Interview with Pin Pin

by Wong Kim Hoh, excerpted from the DVD special edition book.

“It is her first foray into fiction, so Tan Pin Pin was naturally apprehensive when making Pineapple Town.

“I was worried I may not be as fluent in the medium,” says the filmmaker who has made more than 10 documentaries and is acknowledged as a pioneer of the genre in Singapore.

She need not have worried.

Pineapple Town is an assured piece of work, a thoughtful film which explores, like several other films in the omnibus, the idea of home, belonging and identity.

After adopting a baby girl from Malaysia, Li Ning (Lydia Look)
 decides to ask her adoption agent for a meeting with the baby’s birth mother. Li Ning reckons the baby will want to find out what her roots are when she grows up. 
She sets off for Malaysia with the adoption agent Sumathi. After taking a call, Sumathi stops the car at a restaurant along the highway and drops a shocker.


In an interview, Tan describes Pineapple Town as a road movie. Typically in a road movie, characters set out on a journey and, in the process, go through experiences which alter their perspective on life. “It’s all about the search for roots. I have always been interested in personal journeys and the historical beginnings of each individual,” she says. This obsession with roots is certainly reflected in several of her works. Moving House, which won her the Student Academy Award in 2002 while she was doing her Masters of Fine Arts at Northwestern University, chronicles a family’s experience as they exhume their ancestors’ graves and move their remains to a columbarium.

Her latest documentary To Singapore, with Love looks at the lives
of political exiles and examines their memories and perspectives of Singapore. Although they have settled into new lives in different countries, many still think of themselves as Singaporeans and harbour hopes of coming home one day.

Tan dug into her own experience when writing Pineapple Town.

Her mother was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur. As a child, Tan spent a lot of time in that city with her grandmother and other relatives.

“I’m a die-hard Singaporean but my emotional boundaries are a lot more amorphous. I feel very rooted here, but in many ways, I also consider Malaysia home,” Tan says.

In tackling the story of Li Ning and the baby she adopts from across the Causeway, Tan also puts the ties between Malaysia and Singapore under the spotlight.

With Singapore’s independence from the Federation of Malaysia
in 1965, they have become two different countries. Yet, they are inextricably linked through politics, ethnicity, culture, history and a host of other factors. They need and depend on each other in ways too numerous to list.

Tan’s camera captures this unique relationship in Pineapple Town. The Causeway is a central image; it is like the umbilical cord between
the two countries. Each day, at least 250,000 people cross it — on foot,
by motorcycle or in cars, buses, lorries and trucks. Other striking images in the film include the huge water pipes that run alongside the Causeway. There are also shots of lorries filled with construction materials such as reinforced concrete to show that ties are still being built every day.

Emotional ties, Tan seems to suggest, transcend the physical boundaries between Singapore and Malaysia. Asked by Sumathi what she would like to eat at the restaurant in Malaysia, Li Ning replies: “Nasi lemak and teh.”
Tan says she has mostly focused on making documentaries because it seems more urgent. But she really enjoyed the process of working with actors in Pineapple Town.

“The casting process was really time consuming but I got a dream cast,” she says.

Look, a Singaporean actress based in Hollywood, delivers a layered performance as the adoptive mother seeking to understand the whats, whys and hows leading to the birth mother giving her baby away.

Pineapple Town ends in the future, and on a positive note.

The filmmaker says: “It’s my vision of what Singapore can do with her past. Let’s acknowledge our history and be comfortable with it. This will be a precious gift for future generations.”

Cast

Ning – Lydia Look
Sumathi – Anne James
Kang – Nickson Cheng
Michelle (Baby) – Rexy Tong
Michelle (6 Years Old) – Rianne Lee
Ah Gek – Yoo Ah Min
Kim Leng – Karen Lim
Birth Mum – Rachel Tay
Immigration Officer – Muhammad Zulhilmi Bin Ithnin
Grandfather (In Photo) – Ho Tin Ann
Grandmother (In Photo) – Lily Ong

Credits

Written and Directed By
Tan Pin Pin

Producer
Ric Aw
Pok Yue Weng
The Creative Room

Director of Photography
Brian Mcdairmant

Production Manager – Foo Xiuqi
1st Assistant Director – Tiffany Ng
Production Coordinator – Too Wai Shiuh, Sampson Teo
Production Assistant – Kelvin Yee, Terrence You Hui, Chan Jiamin
Art Director – Isaac Lee
Art Assistant – Syed Muhammad Alaydrus
Wardrobe Stylist – Meredith Lee
Wardrobe Assistant – Lee Xin Ying
Make Up Artist / Hair Stylist – Karen Lai
Casting Manager – Lim Jia Yun
Location Manager – Tan Yue Xing
1st Camera Assistant – Sam Quen Dean
2nd Camera Assistant – Feng Kexin
Data Wrangler – Khoo Su-Mae
Key Grip – Malik Basar
Grip – Marcus Chee
Gaffer – William Eng
Sound Recordist – Charlotte Wong
Movie Stills – Charmaine Poh
Production Driver – Yap Sui Boon, Chan Pit Wei, Abdul Rahman Bin Othman, Abdul Manan Bin Paei

Post Production

Offline Editor – Delcie Poh
Graphics – Elena Ho
DCP Mastering Services – Mocha Chai Laboratories
Colourist – Isnor Dzulkarnian Jaafar
Sound Editorial – Justin Seah
Music – “Dayung Sampan” Traditional Indonesian Folksong, hummed by Lydia Look

Special Thanks

Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore
Lee Qin Yi
Ang Bee Eik Doreen
Serene Wong
Hafary Pte Ltd
The Projector, Sharon Tan
Chan Kim Hong
Rathabai Paillai
Miss Lan
Yong Shu Ling
Karen Khoo
Yuni Hadi
Damon Chua
Ian Wee
Alan Yap
Chung Yin Ping
Candice Lim
Friends and Family of Tan Pin Pin



Pineapple Town - Lydia Look plays Ning_800x535 Pineapple Town - BTS 4  Pineapple Town - Ning looks out the window_800x533 7 Letters Gala Premiere Team Pineapple Town at 7 Letters Gala Dinner Pineapple Town - BTS 1

To Singapore, with Love (2013)

 
Official Website: tosingaporewithlove.com

 

Singapore Director Tan Pin Pin travels to Malaysia, UK and Thailand to interview long term Singapore political exiles, some of whom have not been back to Singapore for more than 50 years. They talk about why they left and what Singapore still means to them today. They all fled Singapore in the 1960’s, 1970s and 1980′s to escape the prospect of detention without trial. Some were activists or student leaders whilst others were card carrying communists. Through their interviews, you get a glimpse of a Singapore that could have been.

To Singapore, with Love 星国恋, this award-winning film which screened to full houses the world over, has been banned from public screenings in Singapore for "undermining national security".

Because of the ban, this film is available for pay-per-view streaming in all territories except for Singapore.

70 mins, 16:9, DCP, English, Mandarin, Malay and Hainanese, with English and Chinese subtitles

Awards

  • Winner, Best Director, Muhr AsiaAfria Documentary Awards. Dubai International Film Festival
  • Winner, Best Asean Documentary, Special Mention, Salaya International Documentary Festival
  • Winner, Asian Cinema Fund, Busan International Film Festival
  • Winner, Best Asean Documentary, Special Mention, Freedom Film Festival

Selected Screenings

  • 64th Berlinale, Forum
  • Art of the Real, Film Society of Lincoln Center, USA
  • Taiwan International Documentary Festival
  • World Premiere, In Competition, Busan International Film Festival 2013
  • Para-Site, Hong Kong

Featured

Ho Juan Thai 何元泰
Ang Swee Chai & the late Francis Khoo 洪瑞釵与邱甲祥
Wong Soon Fong 黄信芳
The late Liu Bo 刘波
Tan Wah Piow 陈华彪
Mr & Mrs Tan Hee Kim 陈喜金与 叶婉珍
Chan Sun Wing 陈新嵘
Kua Kia Soong
Mr & Mrs He Jin 贺巾与 苏世华
Chong Ton Sin
The late Lim Hock Siew
Poh Soo Kai 傅树介
Rose Tan Jing Quee 陈仁贵夫人
Said Zahari 赛。扎哈利
Tan Kok Fang 陈国防
Music: Francis Khoo

Crew

Directed, Produced and Photographed by Tan Pin Pin 陈彬彬
“15th of February” and “Anak Pulau Singapura” composed and performed by the late Francis Khoo.
Sound Editor: Justin Seah
Sound Re-recording Mixer: Leslie Low
Sound Post Producer: Vivian Wang
Colourist: David Shiyang Liu
Production Support: Josephine Seetoh
Additional Photography: Eric Youwei Lim
Graphics: Daryl Ho
Translator: Tan Dan Feng
Editor: Delcie Poh
Transcriber: Anonymous
DCP Production: Chai Yee Wei

 

Chan Sun Wing reading a poem    Tan Wah Piow opens the doors to his home in London   He Jin n Su Shihua showing their death portraits in Bangkok Thailand


Poster

To Singapore with Love Poster 450x632

Invisible City (2007)



Official Website: invisiblecity.sg
Watch the full film online on VOD here.

Invisible City (备忘录) chronicles the ways people attempt to leave a mark before they and their histories disappear. From an avid amateur film director trying to preserve his decaying trove of Singapore footage to an intrepid Japanese journalist hunting down Singaporean war veterans, Tan Pin Pin draws out doubts, hopes and the ordinary moments of these protagonists who attempt immortality. Through their footage and photos rarely seen until now, we begin to perceive faint silhouettes of a City that could have been.

Invisible City had a four week sold our run at The Arts House in July 2007. It now tours Singapore and film festivals abroad

60 minutes. In Mandarin, Japanese and English, with Chinese and English Subtitles.

Press

"A witty, intellectually challenging essay on history and memory as tools of civil resistance."
– Citation, Cinema du Reel

"This film brings new inspiration to the telling of Asian histories."
– Taiwan International Documentary Festival

"The film invites debate about how the past can be remembered and history written, objectively, without fear or favour."
– Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

Awards

Asian Vision Award, Taiwan International Documentary Festival
Prix de la SCAM, Cinema du Reel
Asian Cinema Fund, Busan International Film Festival

Festivals

Berlin International Film Festival
Busan International Film Festival
Flaherty Film Seminar
Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival
and more.

With Appearances by

Lim Chen Sian
Wee Sheau Theng
Yeo Kang Shua
Chua Ai Hua
Ivan Polunin
Siew Yen Polunin
Han Tan Juan
Chan Cheow Thia
Teng Siao See
Guo Ren Huey
Ho Meng Kit
Izumi Ogura
Ng Chun Kit
Majorie Topley
Majorie Doggett
Koh Tai Ann
Ong Chang Woei

Crew

Editor Inez Ang
Script Consultants Tan Siok Siok, Jasmine Ng Kin Kia
Associate Producer Lim Tiat
Photography Ryan Seet, Tan Pin Pin
Additional Photography James Teo
Additional Editing Martyn See
Production Support Lian Tsui Yee
Research Tan Wen Ling
Editing Assistant Cheryl Koh
Transcription Zhang Kang Min, Candace Zhou
Japanese voice over Fuwa Tomoko
Sound Designer Nigel Woodford
Colourist Pang Wei Fong Blackmagic Design
Grading Co-ordinator Hazel Ngiam
Graphics Elena Ho
Chinese Subtitles Lim Woan Hui 林琬慧, Eva Tang 邓宝翠
Publicity Suryahti Abdul Latiff, Teng Qian Xi
Legal Advisor Alban Tay Mahtani & de Silva
Brand Strategy & Marketing Mindwasabi


IC - han-tan-juan-tells-it-like-it-is IC - guo-ren-huey-witnesses-the-war IC sidewalk-chalk

Poster

Invisible City Poster 450x367

Singapore GaGa (2005)


 
Official Site: tanpinpin.com/sgg
Watch Singapore GaGa online on VOD here.
Buy the Singapore GaGa DVD here.

 
Singapore GaGa (新加坡风) is a paean to the quirkiness of the Singaporean aural landscape. It reveals Singapore’s past and present with a delight and humour that makes it a necessary film for all Singaporeans. We hear buskers, street vendors, avant garde musicians and madrasah school cheerleaders sing hymns to themselves and to their communities. From these vocabularies (including Arabic, Latin, Hainanese), a sense of what it might mean to be a modern Singaporean emerges. This is the first Singapore documentary to have a cinema release. It had a sold out 7 week theatrical run at The Arts House. With English and Chinese subtitles. The DVD released second half 2006 and it is still on sale at Objectifs.

Singapore GaGa world premiered at Singapore International Film Festival, Fringe, Goethe Institute, 2005

 
55 min, 4:3, 2013, with English and Chinese subtitles

Press

"A subtly subversive yet thoroughly celebratory film… One of the best films about Singapore"
– THE STRAITS TIMES

"Singapore GaGa presents a brilliant alternative gaga view of the go-go Lion City"
– THE STAR, MALAYSIA

****
"If you see only one Singapore film, let this be it"
– TODAY

****
"55 richly textured minutes of sounds"
– 8 DAYS

"Ingenious, warm and ironic documentary about the rough edges of the most manicured city in the world. A documentary with character and real protagonists. With a sensitive ear and a sharp eye, she records what often is not heard or seen. The absurd in everyday life. Despite its light tone, the film has a lot to tell us about modern life, especially in Singapore. a country who wants to make rules for the unruleable."
– GERTJAN ZUILHOF, ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Bangkok Film Festival Pick
– KONG RITHEE, BANGKOK POST

"In this revealing journey we hear people sing hymns to themselves and to their communities and a sense of what it might mean to be a modern Singaporean emerges without once resorting to the jingoism or rhetoric so often associated with such projects"
– SENSES OF CINEMA

"Singapore GaGa portrays bittersweet image of Singaporeans’ complex relationship with their homeland"
– SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

"With subtlety, humour and pathos"
– AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

"去听新加坡风"
– 联合早报

"亲切真实的影像"
– i-weekly

With appearances by

Melvyn Cedello – the late night performer by Novena MRT
Victor Khoo and Charlee – the Mickey Mouse of Singapore
Yew Hong Chow – the harmonica virtuoso
Margaret Leng Tan – showing 'The Art of the Toy Piano'
Gn Kok Lin (Mr. Ying) – the tap dancing, juggling and harmonica-playing performer.
Juanita Melson – The voice of the announcements on the MRT, Civil Defence Alerts ("This is an emergency"), and the Fujitech elevator ("Going Up!")
Chinese Dialect News Readers:
— Chen Yoke Chin
— Loke Tai Tay
— Nyeo Siok Kee
— Tan Tew Hoon
— Koh Pheck Lian

Crew

Produced and Directed by Tan Pin Pin
Production Manager Josephine Seetoh
Cinematographers Ryan Seet, Reu Low, Tan Pin Pin
Sound Recordists Brian Lim, Rafi Dean, Michael Lee
With Assistance from Jasmine Ng, Suryahti Abdul Latiff, Tan Siok Siok, Lian Tsui Yee, Sun Koh, Linette Heng, Tong Jo-Tsze, Yin Phua, Lee Wong, Woo Mun Sen, Nigel Woodford
Off-Line Editors Martyn See, Low Hwee Ling
On-Line Editor Chia Noi Kheng
Sound Designer Nigel Woodford
Sound Engineer Andy Lam, Yellow Box Studios
Colorist Nigel Fernandez
Post Production Producer Gavin Chelvan
Transcribers Daniel Tham, Low Chun Foon, Hazel Ngiam, Priya Balraju, Renee Chua Hui Ling, Wang Zineng
Website ohplay interactive
Subtitles Tan Dan Feng, Interlexis
With Support from Infinite Frameworks, Singapore Film Commission, Asia Reseach Institute, National University of Singapore, Lee Foundation, Maxell Professional Media, CameraQuip

Singapore GaGa was conceived with support of the Asia Artist in Residence Programme, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

 

SGG - clogs uncle SGG - tissue paper SGG - tiny piano SGG - harmonica


Poster

Singapore GaGa Poster 450x636

Snow City (2011)

 
In hot tropical Singapore, a traveler stumbles upon polar bears, a road tunnel grand opening and office workers in cubicles. Deadpan in tone, surprising in content, the film captures a mood of a place where time stands still.

16 min, 4:3, English

Press

"From this surprising stroll around Singapore, there wells up a discreet yet absurd humour"
– Cinema du Reel

"With Tan’s unadorned visual style, Snow City gently earns your attention instead of demanding it. at heart, a film about the importance of seeing and perspective"
– Sindie

Crew

Directed by Tan Pin Pin
Editors: Sun Koh, Inez Ang
A commission by Singapore Biennale

 

Snow City 1 Snow City 2 Snow City 3

80km/h (2003)

 
How long does it take to drive across Singapore at a constant speed of 80kmh?

I traverse the country in one long take. I start the camera rolling at an eastern point (the steeple of Changi Airport) and stop recording at a western point (Tuas Checkpoint). With no cuts, I document every inch of the country, from one exit point to the exit point at the other end of the island.

I keep the speed consistent at 80km/h so that this document has cartographical value. If the same route along the Pan Island Expressway is recorded every year, Singapore’s topographical changes can be mapped with previous recordings. I plan to film this road trip regularly.

This cross country document is a mere 38 minutes. Its duration is its message.

Recently, in the Aedes Gallery, Berlin, in an exhibition about WOHA Architects, the 2004 and 2005 versions were played side by side. We noticed that in one year, there were already many changes.

Screenings

  • Singapore History Museum
  • p-10
  • Australian Film and Television School
  • University of Technology Sydney
  • Singapore Art Show
  • Berlin House of World Cultures
  • Institute of Contemporary Art, London

Credits

Conceived and shot by Tan Pin Pin
Titles by Mindwasabi
With help from, Isaiah Lim, Thio Lay Hoon, Suryahti Abdul Latiff, Lo Mun Hou, Jacqueline Loh, Irina Aristarkhova, Singapore Film Commission

Straits Times Review

by Emily Chua, Dec 5, 2004

Singapore’s fleeting past
Works by young Singaporean artists reflect a deep sense of loss

A SMALL island-nation whose government has been monopolised by the same political party since its inception, Singapore is a place whose history has largely been written in the single voice of the dominant authority.

It is therefore refreshing to find a group of young local artists who each appear to have, through their different artistic practices, all arrived at the question of their past.

A recent exhibition at an independent art space in Little India called p-10, And we took ourselves out of our hands (In Search of the Miraculous), featured several works that looked at Singapore’s past and raised questions about the nature of history itself.

For film-maker Tan Pin Pin, ‘Singapore jumped from Third World to First World in the years I grew up, the post-independence years of the 70s and 80s. Its development is nowhere more pronounced than in the speed in which buildings are demolished and built over. Growing up, I felt I was standing on soft ground.’

The product of this sentiment, Tan’s 80km/h, is a single-take video shot from the passenger’s seat of a car as it dissects the country at 80kmh along the Pan Island Expressway (PIE). A cartographic ritual henceforth to be repeated once every three years, Tan’s project promises to document the same cross-section of the country over a period of time.

In some ways, it is a piece that is already 30 years too late. A banal series of well-manicured trees, factories, schools, and block after block of government flats, 80km/h captures a Singapore that is unlikely to experience many more dramatic changes.

Yet it is perhaps in this lament that the piece works best. The artist’s desire to ‘obsessively document’ originated in a developing Singapore that no longer exists.

Precisely because of this, the monotonous survey of the developed cityscape as it stands today serves only as an inadequate monument to all that is now irretrievably lost without a trace. Beyond Tan’s drive-by panorama, history exists as nothing but the individual’s imagination.
More… Precisely because of this, the monotonous survey of the developed cityscape as it stands today serves only as an inadequate monument to all that is now irretrievably lost without a trace. Beyond Tan’s drive-by panorama, history exists as nothing but the individual’s imagination.

One way of dealing with the pain of this separation is suggested in Lee Sze-Chin’s Last Transmission. A video of the artist crying while watching Wit, an ‘HBO original’ starring Emma Thompson, the piece stems from Lee’s desire to mourn the closing of Singapore’s first and only arts radio station, Passion 99.5 FM.

Caught without a video camera during the last moments of the station’s final broadcast, Lee missed capturing the actual event but decided afterwards to commemorate his sadness anyway, by using Wit as the substitute stimulant to move himself to tears.

A bizarre leap of logic, Last Transmission is compelling precisely in its pathetic determination to undertake the necessarily doomed enterprise of resurrecting a moment passed, in order to mark its passing.

Possessing a document of the past without the actual experience, on the other hand, is just as uncomfortable a situation as Guo Liang’s Greetings From An Old World describes.

Printed on a pamphlet that viewers can take home, the piece comprises a photograph of the 1930s’ Singapore amusement park, Happy World, and the artist’s reflections on the artefact.

‘One imagines a place filled with street performers breathing fire and contortionists balancing china on their bent limbs; adrenaline- pumping joyrides and fantastical carousels,’ the artist writes.

‘Storytellers and fortune tellers line up side by side along narrow pathways and backside alleys, offering a concoction of old legends and mystic truths.’

This pointless exercise in fantasising about the past seems to be the artist’s almost involuntary, knee-jerk response to the image of a Singapore that came and went before him.

Yet after waxing lyrical for a couple of more paragraphs, even he cannot but realise the hollowness of his own initial response.

‘I had reached the limit of the image and there was no way else to go. On hindsight, the image had never promised to take me anywhere other than the confines of its two-dimensional surface.’

Forsaking the stories that education and tradition have programmed us to repeat, the historical document, it seems, functions only as a reminder of the fundamental disconnect between the viewer and the past, an always misleading trace of a world whose truth must remain undiscovered, irrevocably sealed in the past.

Between one artist’s failed response to a historical document and two artists’ failed attempts to write them emerges a sense of documentation itself as the always frustrated desire to hold on to times that are constantly falling away.

Mere traces, documents leave the historian not with singular and objective truths about the past, but with subjective and incommunicable, imaginary reconstructions.

Radically undermining the view of history as a reproducible set of facts, the artists in this show experienced the past as that which is fundamentally and absolutely the no-longer-present.

What is realised between these three artworks is the quiet sadness surrounding every moment that passes the point of the present.

Emily Chua is a young Singaporean artist. Her collabo-rative works with Rutherford Chang were exhibited during SENI 2004 and at R(A): Rated Artistic at PKW gallery.



DSCF0542.JPG

80kmh MAP 2.jpg

The Impossibility of Knowing (2010)


 
Official website: theimpossibilityofknowing.wordpress.com

The documentary visits and films locations where crimes or accidents have taken place, long after the events have happened to find out if these places can transcend time to engender their own significance. With the barest of details gleaned from contemporaneous news clippings, Pin Pin reconstructs the incidents via a dry voice over. The film is narrated by Lim Kay Tong who is the presenter for local crime re-construction series Crime Watch. The locales are marked with an address and you can visit these places.

11 mins 31 secs, 16:9, English

Screenings

Completed and first screened at DMZ Docs 11 Sep 2010
In Competition, Visions du Reel
In Competition, Oberhausen
Singapore Biennale 2011

Press

“As Tan describes, this is an experiment in the ability of film to capture aura, albeit a failed one — visually, the images remain fundamentally architectural and documentary, with no explicit reference to tragedy or haunting. A fascinating game emerges in the relationship between narrative voiceover, which consists of a deadpan recounting of the incidents in a tone of dry reportage, and the video, which is similarly devoid of any prurient interest, as the viewer cannot help but search for clues in the moving space of the film. Emotion shapes geography, and the filmmaker in turn recreates this topography of affect through the application of the cinematic process.”

Crew

Narrator Lim Kay Tong
Producer & Director Tan Pin Pin
Associate Producer Josephine Seetoh
Cinematographer David Shiyang Liu
Editor Grace Xiao
Sound Design & Audio Jerry Teo, SoundRooom
Transcription Asra Aman

 

The Impossibility of Knowing - Mosque1 The Impossibility of Knowing - Mosque2 The Impossibility of Knowing - Draycott The Impossibility of Knowing - Batai

Moving House (2001)


 
The Chew family is one of 55,000 Singapore families forced to relocate the remains of their relatives to a columbarium as the gravesite is needed for urban redevelopment. The picnic mood of the family outing to move the remains belies the sadness and confusion everyone feels.

In February 2001, Discovery Networks Asia made an open call for ideas for documentaries about Asia. They wanted to commission work from emerging Asian documentary filmmakers who would be given a rare opportunity to conceive and produce work for the channel. The open call attracted over 400 pitches. Moving House 搬家 was one of six documentary ideas chosen to be funded. Moving House was screened in December 2001 throughout Asia. It became the first documentary commissioned by Discovery Channel to be entirely conceptualized, initiated and directed by a Singaporean.

Moving House 搬家 (2001) is Pin Pin’s Northwestern University’s thesis film which won a Student Academy Award for Best Documentary. It was based on her first film also called Moving House, shot in 1995. The earlier version is found below. While both films’ narrative arcs are similar, the tone and treatment are very different.

22 min, 4:3, Chinese with English Subtitles

Awards

  • Student Academy Award, Best Documentary
  • Discovery Channel’s Asia First Time Filmmaker Award
  • Chicago International Film Festival, Certificate of Merit
  • Nextframe, Documentary Prize. USA-Asean Best Documentary Award.
  • Finalist, International Documentary Association/David L. Wolper Student Achievement Award
  • Finalist, Golden Reel Award, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film & Video Award

Screenings

  • Kodak Emerging Filmmakers’ Showcase, Cannes 2003
  • Australian International Documentary Conference
  • Discovery Channel Asian & Australian Broadcast
  • Bangkok Short Film and Video Festival
  • International Film and Video Awards, Hong Kong
  • Philadelphia International Film Festival
  • NextFrame Traveling Film and Video Festival
  • Image Union, Chicago Public Television Broadcast
  • Commonwealth Film Festival, UK
  • Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film &Video Festival
  • Chicago Asian American Showcase
  • Malaysian Video Awards
  • Women Inspire, Singapore
  • Asian Film Symposium, Singapore
  • Loyola Marymount University Television
  • Malaysian Video Awards

Credits

Director/Writer Tan Pin Pin
Production Manager Suryahti Abdul Latiff
Line Producer Ho Choon Hiong
Camera Jackie Ong, Ho Choon Hiong, Lucas Jodogne
Production Assistant Lee Chuen Ling
Sound Recordist Michael Lee, Cheong Yew Mun
Camera Assistant Lillian Wang
Off-line Editor Gek Li San, Daryl Burney
On-line Editor Hendry Keck
Music Composer Philip Tan
Audio Mixing Muhd bin Jafar
Narrator Remesh Panicker
Graphics Marc Campbell

Production Management

For Live Art Television, Singapore
Robert Andrews
Amelia Hanibelsz

For Discovery Channel International
Executive Producer
Chris Haws

For Discovery Networks Asia
Series Supervising Producer
Bruce Moir

Executive Producer
Vikram Channa

Executive in Charge of Production
James Gibbons

MH - Featured Image for homepage
 
Moving House (1997)

Gravedigger’s Luck (2003)

 
Gravedigger’s Luck is the sequel to the award-winning Moving House. It documents the trials and tribulations of Ah Kow, the gravedigger whom Pin Pin met while shooting Moving House. The film takes a humorous look at the work of a gravedigger in Singapore. It follows him as he tries out multiple luck-enhancing methods to improve his luck which he believes has worn thin because of his job as a grave exhumer. Gravedigger’s Luck was the runner up for Best Documentary at the Asian TV Awards, and the runner up for Best Infotainment Programme.

It is part of a 6-part Discovery series, Afterlife, where Pin Pin was the series co-consultant.

Credits

Written & Directed by Tan Pin Pin
Series Producer David Moggie
Series Editors Tan Pin Pin, Jasmine Ng
Assistant Producer Ho Choon Hiong
Production Assistants Augustine Low, Joe Kia, Maverick Guo
Camera Haruld Goh, Low Ling Hooi, Nelson Pereira
Additional Camera Jack Tan, Russell Zendher, Ivan Yeo, Goh Meng Hing
Camera Assistants Lim Tian Chye, Ben Ong
Sound LT Chan, James Choong, Yazer Aziz
Post Production VHQ Post (S) Pte. Ltd.
Editor Tammy Quah
Media Assistant Stanley Low
Colourist Corey Spykerman
Opening Titles & Graphics Lulu Li, Elena Ruey Ho
Post-Production Coordinator Sandy Cheah
Original Music & Sound Design Nigel Woodford
Sound Mix Shtung Pte. Ltd.
Narrator David Moggie

Thanks To
Chan Ah Kaw
Chua Ah Tee
Ang Yew Seng Funeral Parlour
Lee Teoh Heng Undertaker
Heng Kok Handicraft
Ho Yoke Cheong
Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Show
Hu Ji Hua Musical Troupe
Eddie Lo
Lian Shan Shuang Lin Temple
Huang Jialing
AP Minimart Toa Payoh
Singapore Pools
Colin Lauw
Block 219 Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Zhong Yuan Hui
Geylang Bahru Zhong Yuan Hui
Han Kwang Wei
Tan Siok Siok
Soh Seok Hoon
Lo Mun Hou
Michael Lee

For VHQ TV

Unit Production Manager Sharon Demello
Executive Producers Chris Batson, Jocelyn Little
For Discovery Networks Asia
Production Manager Lil Cranfield
Executive Producer Vikram Channa
Executive in Charge of Production James Gibbons
 

Gravediggers Luck - prayer Gravediggers Luck - lorry 2 Gravediggers Luck - lorry Gravediggers Luck - kneel prayer Gravediggers Luck - Lalang