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.

STATEMENT BY TAN PIN PIN
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 Singapores coastline from afar. In the process of researching the idea of being outside, I stumbled upon Escape from the Lions 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
Films official site
Films Facebook page
Directors filmography
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