Tan Pin Pin is an award-winning Singapore film director who has spent over two decades chronicling her country’s history, memory and representation in thoughtful and self-reflexive works that have screened theatrically in Singapore and abroad. Her works have been invited to key film festivals: Berlinale, Busan, Hot Docs, SXSW, Visions du Reel and at the Flaherty Seminar. Nearer home, they have been presented at M+, Parasite, CUHK, Rumah Attap, Sa Sa Art Projects, on Singapore Airlines, Jakarta Biennale and on Netflix.
Her work has been honoured with mid-career retrospectives at RIDM in Montreal, Liberation Docfest in Bangladesh and Dok Leipzig. Pin Pin started her career in the arts as a photojournalist. When video cameras became more affordable, she made the leap to the moving image after being moved by Taiwanese auteur’s Hou Hsiao Hsien’s City of Sadness. Inspired, she made her first film, Moving House (1996) using borrowed cameras. It is about the exhumation of her great-grandparent’s graves and their remain’s subsequent move to a columbarium. The film got her her first film job as an assistant director for the police drama, Triple Nine, and latterly, a scholarship to study film at Northwestern University, USA. Her graduation film won a Student Academy Award.
Upon her return to Singapore, she made Singapore GaGa (2005) a film about Singapore’s soundscape. It was described as “One of the best films about Singapore” by the Straits Times. It became the first Singapore documentary to have an 8-week sold-out theatrical run. Meanwhile, the citation for the award from Cinema du Reel for Invisible City (2007), her next film, reads, “A witty, intellectually challenging essay on history and memory as tools of civil resistance”. Her short film Pineapple Town (2015), one of seven in the 7 Letters omnibus, was Singapore’s entry to the Oscars. Meanwhile, To Singapore, with Love (2013), a film about Singapore political exiles was banned by Singapore’s censors for undermining National Security. IN TIME TO COME (2017), her next film is an immersive film about Singapore rituals like fire drills and mosquito fogging sessions.
Her latest work, walk walk (2023), is a public art installation sited at a bus terminal. The installation consists of a ticket office that has been transformed into a cinema. In it plays a video she made connecting walking and freedom. Together with accompanying text installations, walk walk is the first public art work sited in a bus terminal. walk walk will screen exclusively at the terminal from 2023-2025 five times a day, making it arguably the longest running film in the country.
To support the next generation of documentary producers, Pin Pin was the executive producer of Unteachable (2019). It was the first independent documentary shot in a Singapore secondary school about Singapore’s education system. She has mentored at many documentary development programmes, most recently as a mentor for the Yamagata Documentary Dojo (3 seasons), Japan, and Docs by the Sea, Indonesia (two seasons).
She has been on juries of Taiwan International Documentary Festival, Dok Leipzig, Cinemanila, Jiffest, Busan and DMZDocs amongst others as well as moderated and presented at panels at home and abroad.
She was a Board member of the Singapore International Film Festival, National Archives of Singapore and The Substation. She was also a founding member of filmcommunitysg, an independent film advocacy group in Singapore. In 2018, she is one of two Singaporean directors elected onto the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences, USA. Her work has been purchased by libraries in Lund University, University of Toronto, HKBU, Melbourne University, Harvard, University of Notre Dame amongst others. Pin Pin has an MFA from Northwestern University and an MA Jurisprudence from Oxford University.
Her films are available on Vimeo on Demand. 7 Letters, Singapore GaGa and IN TIME TO COME are also available on Netflix, SE Asia.
You can reach her at tanpinpin[at]gmail[dot]com and on Facebook and Twitter
- “Tan Pin Pin. No Vacation From Politics” – Jeu De Paume
- “Banned Film Reunites Singapore With Its Exiles” – The New York Times
- “Love in Exile: a Cinematic Pilgrimage to Watch Tan Pin Pin’s Censored To Singapore, with Love” – MovieMaker
- Cinematheque Quarterly email interview by Vinita Ramini – National Museum of Singapore
- “On the Banning of a Film: Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, with Love” – Senses of Cinema
- Statement on MDA Rating
- “To Singapore, with Love: “If You Care Too Much About Singapore, First It Breaks Your Spirit, Then It Breaks Your Heart” – Manifesta (see page 121)
- Gestures of Resistance: An Interview with Tan Pin Pin, an interview with Joanne Leow, Senses of Cinema
- Pin Pin on IMDb