“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.

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
Full account of the ban

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.

To Singapore, with Love is now on DVD

Homepage Slider Images DVD Sale
You can now buy the DVD or stream “To Singapore, with Love” if you are outside Singapore.

Whether you buy or stream the film, organise a screening. This film should not be watched alone. It needs to be experienced together with friends and family. After all, together, forward we go.

The DVD is a limited edition DVD, signed. The order window closes 31 July. So don’t wait!

If you appreciate the film and would like to support future projects, please consider making a contribution. Thank you.

With Love, from Singapore,
Tan Pin Pin

Make a Demand

Very happy to announce that some of my films are now available for rent via Vimeo on Demand (VOD).

You’ll be able to watch them on any device, including your smartphone and Apple TV – just need an Internet connection.

Singapore GaGa

Invisible City

New to VOD?
No worries. For step by step instructions, click here.

To Singapore, with Love is banned

The Media Development Authority of Singapore has banned To Singapore, with Love for “undermining national security”. Here is my statement in response, which first appeared on the film’s Facebook page.

Director and Producer of “To Singapore, with Love”

To Singapore with Love (2013) was slated to screen with my other films Invisible City (2007) and Singapore GaGa (2005) at the end of September 2014, in a triple-bill presented by National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum, an institution that I have had a long working relationship with in relation to my previous films.

Now the screenings will not take place.

I am very disappointed by the MDA decision to ban it — for myself, and also what it means for Singapore. 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 (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 in Malaysia. I was so moved by her account that I decided to change focus and To Singapore, with Love was born. Like my other films mentioned above, this film is a portrait of Singapore; unlike the others, this film is shot entirely outside the country, in the belief that we can learn something about ourselves by adopting, both literally and figuratively, an external view.

For this film, I traveled to England, Malaysia and Thailand to interview the exiles to find out how they have lived their lives away from Singapore. 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 show us the new lives they have created for themselves. One shows us around his noodle-making factory, we visit the law firm of another and play with the children of yet another exile. We also attend the funeral of one of them. Finally, we observe a family reunion that takes place in Johor Baru, the twinkling lights of Singapore a short distance away. The focus is on their everyday lives. These exiles all have different ideological positions and are of different ages; some are communists, others are activists from the Christian Left, yet others are socialist politicians or former student activists. But their feelings for Singapore is intense and heartfelt, albeit sometimes ambivalent, even after so long away. Those feelings (more than the circumstances of their exile, or even the historical “truth” that led to such exile) are what my film predominantly focuses on, because I feel that many viewers might relate to those feelings.

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. Perhaps what remains could be the essence of us today. 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 am therefore very disappointed that my film is banned. By doing this, MDA is taking away an opportunity for us Singaporeans see it and to have a conversation about it and our past that this film could have started or contributed to. It is vital for us to have that conversation on our own terms, especially on the eve of our 50th birthday. We need to be trusted to be able to find the answers to questions about ourselves, for ourselves.

It is my deepest regret that we cannot have such a conversation here today. That conversation did start when some Singaporeans saw it at film festivals overseas. Some of the reactions include; “Tender and searching” “Extremely moving and thought-provoking” and “A Must see”. Now, the irony that a film about Singapore exiles is now exiled from Singapore as well – this is not something I ever wanted or hoped for.

I hope to be able to show it in Singapore one day, and may re-submit for a rating in the future.

Tan Pin Pin
10 September 2014

More information
Film’s official site
Film’s Facebook page
Director’s filmography


影片《星国恋》(To Singapore with Love )(2013)原定于2014年9月,连同我的另外两部纪录片《备忘录》(Invisible City)(2007)和《新加坡风》(Singapore GaGa)(2005),在新加坡国立大学博物馆——一个与我业已建立起长久合作关系的机构——放映。







我期待影片终有一天能够在新加坡放映,并考虑在未来重新把片子提交给当局进行分级审查 。


Jurying at Busan International Film Festival

Growing up in the 70’s, S. Korea never featured in my minds eye. It was either Japan, everything imported from Japan was of the highest quality, from stationary to all our electronics, Great Britain, I was weaned on the BBC World Service, or the USA, the setting of all my favourite television shows. Korea, if it featured at all, was represented by Ssangyong, the mega construction company who built our train lines in the 80’s or it was a country riddled with North Korean spies who were always defecting. I never saw them as cultural beacons who would make such an impact on my filmmaking life. As we speak, To Singapore, with Love has completed a three city tour screening at Busan, Seoul and Incheon. Busan International Film Festival supported both To Singapore, with Love (2013) and Invisible City (2007) through the Asian Cinema Fund, they were the first people who gave this films the huge vote of confidence. DMZ Documentary Film Festival also commissioned “The Impossibility of Knowing” (2010). Most recently, I was asked to be on the Jury of the Wide Angle Section at the Busan International Film Festival. An honour, I quickly accepted, it my chance to pay back, even a little bit. Come the first two weeks of October, I will be in Busan watching documentaries, I can’t think of anything better.

50th anniversary film Omnibus

Documentary directors, at least in Singapore, are often asked when we will make a dramatic film – as if all the documentary training we have is expected to lead to this moment. Well the moment has arrived! Together with 6 other directors, all familiar names, we are making a short film each around the theme of Singapore for this omnibus project. It’ll be Singapore filmmakers contribution to Singapore’s 50th anniversary celebrations. It’ll be my first time having to deal with actors 15 in years since my student film Rogers Park. Looking forward to it, sort of. What is my short about? More details will be revealed at the media conference in October. Akan Datang

SG50 today

To Singapore, with Love awarded Best Director at Dubai

Very happy to announce that To Singapore, with Love won the Best Director Award in the Muhr AsiaAfrica Documentary section, Dubai International Film Festival on 13 Dec 2013. The award was given by Sheik Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid. I’d like to thank the crew, supporters and also the people I interivewed who shared their stories with me. ST report here

Dubai DIFF Sheikh+Mansoor+bin+Mohammed+bin+Rashid+Al+ml8ZsxVtz_dl

Review “To Singapore, with Love” 星国恋 at Busan International Film Festival 2013

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

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.

Short Synopsis
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).

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Directed, Produced and Photographed by Tan Pin Pin
2013, 70min, DCP, English, Mandarin, Malay, Hainanese
with English and Chinese subtitles

postcard TSWL

2012 Highlights

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.