Observational Filming: National Film & TV School, UK Short Course

The Media Development Authority has recently re-started a Talent Assistance Scheme where media practitioners can apply for partial funding to attend media courses. Where the course is not taught in Singapore, funding can be sought for overseas courses conducted up to a limit of SGD15000/person/year. I applied for and received funding to attend the Observational Filming Short Course (5 days) at the National Film & TV School, UK (NFTS), I felt I needed a refresher for the Cinema Verite or fly-on-the-wall style of shooting that is the backbone of many indie documentaries. I found the quality of teaching and professionalism at NFTS very high. My course itself, conducted about 1-2 times a year and taught by Zillah Bowes is highly recommended.

Here is some information about the NFTS short courses offered. The wonderful thing is the range. There are industry focused courses like courses on focus pulling, there are also DIY shoot-from-the-hip kind of courses like “filmmaking on a microbudget”. The Australian Film, Television and Radio School, modeled on the NFTS also offers a similar range of short courses which are just as rigourous. Sydney is of course nearer to Singapore and less of trial to get to. The Singapore equivalent is the Singapore Media Academy. Some of the courses here are well conducted but course selection is less deep and wide-ranging.

I am reproducing my MDA Trip Report. Its detailed and let’s on what the syllabus covers.

“This course was very useful for those who are interested in the telling stories using the “verite”, “observational” or “fly on the wall” style of documentary filmmaking. It is the kind of documentary where the actions and speech of the protagonists is a main feature of the documentary, a style which relies less on voiceovers to make dramatic points.

The five-day course focused on:
-How to construct a scene, in terms of what shots to take, what audio to record, what questions to ask during action.
-How to mic up the speaker
-How the camera should follow dialogue in a scene, where to place the camera
-How to pan correctly
-How to move the camera seamlessly so the edit is seamless
-How to shoot for editing

Every day we had to shoot exercises that built up towards the final project. The exercises included: how to shoot “continuous action” which is something repetitive and unchanging, say a chef kneading dough, and how to shoot an unpredictable exchange between two people. The final exercise was shooting a scene with people interacting, set in a locale of our choosing.

What I learnt
Watching our exercises which we also had to edit ourselves (a good pedagogical tool to teach shooting I found! Nothing like having to edit around one’s mistakes), I felt that most of my classmates including myself don’t hold shots long enough for dramatic effect, we usually feel impatient and zoom in or cut too early. Shooting time and watching time feel different, so most people need to make a deliberate and counter-intuitive act to hold a shot longer than we normally would.

Also, when following someone, it is important to let them leave the shot, so that that can be a cut point. This is obvious, but it is easily forgotten. In a conversation, we need to shoot cut away reactions of people, so that there are edit points for dialogue. The trick is to let the audio recording continue even while we are adjusting a shot so that the audio conversation is still usable.

Other stuff covered
1 Panning/Tilting: start with the end position so we don’t have to contort ourselves
2 How to balance the camera’s weight: keep knees bent, strengthen core through yoga (!)
3 How to walk and shoot: keeping footsteps in phase with protagonists
4 Focus on faces, less on actions.
5 Heavier cameras are more stable.
6 The need to familiarise ourselves with the camera so that we know which direction to turn the rings if we want to close the aperture/zoom in or out, these should be second nature and mastered.

One of the strong points about this course is that it historicises this style of shooting. We were shown examples from the pioneers, Maysles like Don’t Look Now, Primary and Salesmen. Kim Longinotto’s Sisters-in-Law and Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go were used as current gold standard examples.

News cameraperson or cameraperson or directors wanting to shoot more verite-styled documentaries will find this course useful because of the emphasis on story-telling through the drama within the scenes. The cameraperson has to pay particular attention to what is said and direct the camera accordingly. Also it focuses on the shots needed to set up a scene.

The quality of the NFTS’ teaching is very high. Class size was small, six. The tutors were very experienced and thought carefully how to structure the course for it to make sense to us. Equipment, facilities as well as the library are also very comprehensive. At GBP700, it is very good value. Though it touches on some basics, there is enough for an experience cameraperson/director to take something away from the course too.

A demonstration on how to climb stairs smoothly while shooting

Using the eyepiece to steady the camera while shooting handheld

Critiquing each other’s work after shooting exercise

Editing our own work for the final exercise

Screening our final projects in widescreen!

SHS Does Perak

Singapore Heritage Society organised a five day tour to Colonial Perak, Malaysia led by Dr Lai Chee Kien. It was an intense trip to places I would have never otherwise gone myself. I found myself photographing not so much the sights themselves but Singaporeans seeing this Malaysia for the first time. The very colonial Padangs, five footways and Istanas. Every thing was familiar yet unfamiliar. The photo below sees us examining the first rubber tree that was planted in Malaysia by Henry Ridley in Kuala Kangsar. The same Ridley who headed Singapore’s first Botanic Gardens. Later, I watched Amir Muhammad’s The Last Communist again, and saw the same locations and people including Taiping historian Lee Eng Kew and my beloved charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang featured from the MCP’s point of view! Love it!

New films launched online

Two new films of mine are launched online for the first time. The first is an animation, its my first animation, though I would also call it a dance performance. The other, about a set of graffiti found at the infamous Yangtze Cinema in Singapore. Click on the links below to view.
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A dance featuring a cast of words inspired by a thesaurus, 6 min
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A set of grafitti is found at Yangtze Cinema, 6 min
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Watch it big by clicking on the expand button, play it loud.
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These films are commissioned by the Singapore Memory Project. an ambitious project which aims to collect, tag and showcase Singapore memories.
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Making memories, S’pore-style
Singapore Memory Project aims to collect, record and preserve five million personal memories of Singapore from Singaporeans.
Tay Yek Keak, mypaper
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Wed, Apr 25, 2012
In the light of the debate over the preservation of the Bukit Brown cemetery, here are three timely short films – made by two top female Singaporean directors – which remind us of the importance of not forgetting about a thing called Memory.
The films are part of the Singapore Memory Project run by the National Library Board, which aims to collect, record and preserve five million personal memories of Singapore from Singaporeans by 2015 for future generations.
In the march of time, things get erased, misplaced, waylaid or simply unceremoniously forgotten. That is why memories are important, as the late American writer Saul Bellow reasoned, to “keep the wolf of insignificance from the door”.
Here’s what to expect.
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Yangtze Scribbler
Director: Tan Pin Pin
This fascinating video appeals to your inner snoop, and will give you a taste of The Da Vinci Code in Singapore.
Okay, checking out the graffiti in a dingy stairwell of Chinatown’s Pearl Centre where Yangtze Cinema – that quaintly cool bastion of sleaze house-art house – used to sit isn’t exactly the stuff of books or movies.
But repeatedly scrawled on the walls there is a mysterious combination of numbers and stick figures.
Could they be gang messages or alien symbols? Or, maybe they were simply the work of some pervert recording how many dirty movies he’d seen.
The narrator of this docu-sleuthing is Debbie Ding, somebody who has been archiving signs and symbols in Singapore.
I have to confess that I’m a big fan of director Tan Pin Pin (Singapore GaGa, Invisible City). She is a premier observer of details and the invisible patterns that link them.
In Yangtze Scribbler, she stirs your curiosity enough to make you think. That’s the first step in the path to creating a memory. You’ll never forget when something intrigues you. And this short surely does.
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Director: Tan Pin Pin
The first time I saw this clever experimental clip which features words leading into more words on a starkly white background, I thought it was a student work done by a dictionary fan.
But Tan’s six-minute video, dubbed a “visual thesaurus”, imprints essential cautionary directions onto your mind the way you’d never forget a letter from a divorce lawyer.
Starting from the key opposing words of “remember” and “forget”, the trail leads off to a web of ancillary words that adds more and more meaning and purpose – and finally, danger! – to the one before.
Remember, regain, record, retrieve, observe, witness, discovery, cure, heal, unify, improve; and, conversely, forget, block, bury, erase, leave – each word is connected by moving lines which grow and evolve like a living organism.
If you’re some kind of Scrabble freak, you’re in for a hypnotic word fest. Just remember to remember the word “remember”.
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Singapore Country
Director: Wee Li Lin
Matthew Tan is Singapore’s very own home-grown cowboy who went to Nashville, Tennessee (home of country music), in 1975 with the intention of creating a FSS (famous Singapore song).
In this short, he tells interviewer Adrian Pang that in a motel there, he and a motel employee, Bristow Hopper, came up with Singapore Cowboy, Tan’s lonesome ode to local sons in distant lands.
Director Wee Li Lin’s (Gone Shopping, Forever) approach is predictable, using yesteryear photos of cheesy hair and clothes to pile on the nostalgia.
The bit before a sit-down interview with Adrian Pang, though, is playfully cheeky as a throng of good ol’ gals line- dance, with Tan singing onstage.
It is an articulate Tan who nails down his strange affinity for all things country.
“I lived in Upper Serangoon which was a very ulu place with attap houses,” he reveals. “You cannot be any more country than that.”

National Museum’s Cinematheque Quarterly latest issue is out

You can download the PDF here.
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This 3rd issue features writings by Philip Cheah and Jasmine Nadua Trice on the state of SE Asian film archiving and a piece by Ho Rui Ann too. The publication is edited by Vinita Ramani Mohan. It features an interview with me on page 55. I’d like to thank National Museum’s team for the thoroughness and utter professionalism they approached this email interview.
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For the last decade Tan Pin Pin has used the documentary form to make visible aspects of daily life in Singapore that are selectively ignored or conveniently forgotten. Her films seek out fascinating characters with stories to tell, objects that trigger memories and traditional practices that have to be continually modified to make way for an efficient and hyper-modernised way of life. A careful observer, Pin Pin’s filmmaking shows sensitivity to a city in a perpetual state of flux, as well as a keen eye for the fatalism and dark wit that typifies Singaporean humour. In this
e-mail interview with the Cinémathèque Quarterly, she discusses her filmic beginnings, the processes behind many of her works, and why it’s important to keep asking the right questions.
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What was the initial trigger that made you want to be a filmmaker?
While I was an undergraduate studying to be a lawyer, I was introduced to photography as I was browsing through the art section of the University library. I was influenced by photographers Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus. They championed a personal way of seeing and an independent way of working, both of which are themes I still subscribe to. I started out as a photographer and moved to the moving image a few years later when technology became more affordable. I wanted my images to talk and move. At that time, filmmaking was a very exotic and expensive sounding activity, but I sensed that things were about to change.
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What was your very first film and did it contain within it, a hint of the themes that would come to preoccupy you?
My first film was Moving House, the 1997 version (which was an earlier version of the one most people have seen that won the Student Academy Award). This was shot in 1995 with Jasmine Ng’s help. I borrowed a 16mm Bolex and a Betacam video camera from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. This film was like a home movie because it featured my family. I filmed my family overseeing the exhumation of my great-grandfather and moving his remains to Mandai Columbarium. I wanted to make a memoriam for the first “Tan” who came to Singapore in the late 1890s from Fujian, China, and spawned four generations. It was thus a story of Singapore. I am interested in beginnings.
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Was your interest in filmmaking furthered through film school and if not, how has the fact of being self-taught aided your creative process?
These were the pre-Internet days. I read voraciously at the library and was a fervent attendee at all Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) and Singapore Film Society (SFS) events but there is only so much you can do as an autodidact with no equipment. I decided to work at Mediacorp in the drama department to learn the ropes of production. I was an assistant director in the series Triple Nine and VR Man. To this day, continuity is second nature to me because of the training from that period. When I won a scholarship to attend Northwestern University’s MFA film programme 2 years later, I found I had to unlearn everything to re-learn the language of art! I am still learning.
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Do you think it is more difficult being a film-maker in Singapore, as compared to elsewhere in Asia, or beyond?
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Want to read more? Download the PDF here.
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HD Failure, Tape Mould and Other Catastrophies

I have always wanted to find out how my fellow filmmakers addressed this fragile state of archving of their films and rushes. Its an outstanding issue, for me especially since I (and 8 other Singapore directors) withdrew our films from the Asian Film Archive in 2010. So I thought to put this workshop together. It was well attended by about 20 filmmakers.
filmcommunitysg workshop
HD Failure, Tape Mould and Other Catastrophies
Seminar on workflow management and archiving for indie filmmakers

How do we to protect our projects and rushes from HD failure, tape mould and other catastrophies – and organise them for easy retrieval and future screenings. Some filmcommunitysg members will share tips on how they manage their material and they will provide usable tips you can use for your own projects.

Date: Mon, 2nd April, 7pm sharp
Venue: Sinema Studio, Old School 11b Mt Sophia (thanks Sinema)
Free. Open to the public: but pls register email filmcommunitysg@gmail.com by 30 March so that we can get a sense of numbers (limited spaces)


David Liu
“How I had to learned the hard way. (ie. lost data several times) how I’ve gone from stupidly using just one hard drive for all my data and backing that up, to assigning a hard drive for every project and setting up working hard drives for every year. I will talk briefly and how I shelve each hard drive and ensure that they are read every year when a certain movie needs to be screened or watched. Will also cover cloud processes, like dropbox to archive working project files.”
Nicholas Chee
“My workflow defines each process and role from pre-pro all the way to delivery for the budget constrained indie filmmaker without sacrificing quality and security”
Chai Yee Wei
“I will explain the philosophy behind the approach I use to archive my files on harddrives and how to set up the HD RAID for media protection. All these while considering the costs that will be incurred”
Dustin Lau (who will be out of town)
Will read highlight his slides “Where old tapes and hard disks go to die”: What indies can learn from the ESPN experience
Tan Pin Pin
Findings on mouldy tapes and dry cabinets
Martyn See
Youtube as archive
This is part of a series of presentations from members to others in the community. Previous presentations have included DSLR rigs, The Film Act, Camera demos. Everyone, even those not in filmcommunitysg are welcome to these sessions. We start at 7pm sharp


Two new works will be launched soon

1 A live video recording of a performance inspired by a thesaurus
2 A documentary about the Yangtze Scribbler, inspired by Debbie Ding’s flickr set of photos
Both were commissioned by the National Library Board for the Singapore Memory Project and both are scored by Bani Haykal. Looking forward to showing them to you

Snow City Premieres in Paris

Pin Pin Tan
2011 / Singapour / 15 min
Ours polaires, inauguration en grande pompe d’un tunnel routier ou douche de camions sur un chantier; de cette promenade surprenante dans Singapour sourd un humour aussi discret qu’absurde.
Polar bears, the fanfare of a road tunnel inauguration or a truck wash on a building site; from this surprising stroll around Singapore, there wells up a discreet yet absurd humour.
3 screenings
Vendredi/ Friday, 23 Mars 16H30 Cinéma 2
Dimanche/ Sunday, 25 Mars 13H00 Cinéma 1
Mercredi/Wednesday, 28 Mars 17H00 Centre Wallonie Bruxelles
I was making a film about the aura of places in Singapore so I traveled around Singapore and filmed my surrounds with a heightened state of awareness. The familiar, like cleaners washing tires, became unfamiliar, and the ordinary, office workers going out for lunch, extraordinary. This “tour” was undertaken in 2006 and though the project morphed into an entirely different film (Invisible City, 2007) some of these images which were not used refused to leave my mind. Every now and again, I would go back to review the rushes knowing that there was a thread through them but I could not quite articulate it.

One day, under a deadline for the Singapore Biennale, we revisited the images and in three days Sun Koh and I cut SNOW CITY together. I believe one of the roles of cinema is to make dreamscapes out of the familiar. In SNOW CITY I invite visitors to lock step with me as I explore this dreamlike terrain, this headspace, this way of seeing.

I will be present at the screenings.

Dog Days

“If you look at a dog following the advice of his nose, he traverses a patch of land in a completely unplottable manner. And he invariably finds what he’s looking for. I think that, as I’ve always had dogs, I’ve learned from them how to do this. And so you then have a small amount of material, and you accumulate things, and it grows; one thing takes you to another, and you make something out of these haphazardly assembled materials. And, as they have been assembled in this random fashion, you have to strain your imagination in order to create a connection between the two things. If you look for things that are like the things that you have looked for before, then, obviously, they’ll connect up. But they’ll only connect up in an obvious sort of way, which actually isn’t, in terms of writing something new, very productive. So you have to take heterogeneous materials in order to get your mind to do something that it hasn’t done before.”
W.G. Sebald
What am I doing these days? Just sniffing around

Paris and Other Happenings

Happy to announce that Snow City has been chosen to screen at Cinéma du Réel, in Competition and I will attending this screening in Paris end March. This is a country which holds cinema in such high regard that we were told that our films will be touring Paris Prisons as part of a prison screening scheme. Mind boggling. Then again this is a country where the cultural attache in the French Embassy in Singapore contacts me to ask if I need assistance with booking my flight and proceeds to book it for me with insurance thrown in. It is nice to swim in these waters. By the way, do recommend places to visit for a Parissienne newbie. I know I will be torn between watching great films, meeting folks and touring Paris during my too short stay.


The Impossibility of Knowing which has screened recently at the Kuala Lumpur Experimental Film Festival, the 6th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival will be screening at the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival. I have been a great fan of Ann Arbor (most secondhand bookshops per square mile) and the Festival, great films, since my Chicago days. You get a sense of a festival’s community vibe when they offer to put filmmakers up in hosts’ homes and they offer airport pick ups for filmmakers by volunteers. I suppose that is why it has lasted 50 years. Congrats, Ann Arbor!


Meanwhile, Singapore GaGa is touring the USA. After James River Film Society in Virginia, it has gone to the Nightingale in Chicago, International House Philadelphia, Vassar College, New York and up next, Wellesley College. Special thanks to the exposure from the Flaherty Seminar Screenings for this incredible journey.

Seems that the only way for me to travel these days is to make films, so perhaps I should make more films especially to visit Vladivostok, Havana, Tehran, Caucasus, Pyongyang, Chile, Sao Paolo, Vilnius, Tallinn and the Balkans, land of Emir Kusturica.


I am currently completing two commissions for the National Library which I will update you about soon. One, a work about the Yangtze Scribbler and another, an animation. More later!


A few of us have been canvassing the Singapore Film Commission to give more recognition to cultural and artistic films in their funding schemes. Documentaries for example have been excluded from these schemes for too long. I hope to see more great films now that the new criteria are in place.

Jury Statement DMZDocs

For four days in Sept, Anke Leweke, film critic and Berlinale programmer, Korean director Lee Seong-gyou and I watched 13 documentaries which made it to the DMZDoc’s International Competition section as jury members. It was super intense marathon viewing session and this was followed by a long session to decide on the winners. As a filmmaker myself, I felt very inspired by what I saw.

Our deepest congratulations to all the filmmakers. It was a privilege to witness the effort that went into the films. Here is our statement.

“First of all we would like to thank you all directors that have presented us with your visions. It is clear to us that the 9/11 and the clash of Civilisations that it represents had a huge impact on the world. 5 of the 13 films had that as the main theme or at least the underlying theme. The other strong theme is the abject poverty in some parts of the world. In any case, more and more people are left out of the world, either on their own accord or because of the system. The best documentaries try to understand the problems and effects in an even-handed way.
We had to decide between films that had strong persuasive political agendas and films that were less politically ambitious but had very strong personal, even singular points of view. In this day and age, is one kind of film more important than others? There are no clear cut answers. So we had to grapple with the role of documentary films, indeed, all filmmaking today.

So for the Special Jury Prize, we would like to give it to Bombay Beach by Alma Har’el. It is easy to make a film about poverty but difficult to do it well because such films usually focus on the poor conditions only, with not enough on the complicity of the director to make and perpetuate such poverty through their films.

Bombay Beach is on the surface about the very poor who live in an isolated place in the middle of the desert in USA. The director in the middle of cinema verite sequences intersperses moments with dance sequences performed by the protagonists themselves that felt true to their lives. This device cleverly shedslight on the performative aspects of documentary and the unspoken collaboration every director needs between herself and the protagonists to make the films.
The White Goose Award goes to The Tiniest Place by Tatiana Huezo. How do you make a film about all the pain and death in war without showing pictures of the war, without talking heads, showing only beautiful tropical scenery, and simple day to day life of villagers in a small village in El Salvador? But we can listen to the thoughts of the villages who have survived the war through their voiceovers. Many are still struggling with the memories and living with the death of their loved ones. So a third film starts to exist in your mind.

But mainly we see that life has also gone on. Calves are born, chicks are hatched, children are born. And so a village is reborn out of ashes, put so simply and lyrically.”

Pin Pin Box Sets Selling Out

Distributor Objectifs has informed me that there are only 30 units of the Tan Pin Pin Box Set (pic on the left) left. So if you were keen but haven’t bought the set, now is the time to buy it. There won’t be future editions. If you are in Singapore, you can buy them at Kinokuniya at Takashimaya or from Objectifs. If you are overseas, please email info@objectifs.com.sg or call +65 6293 9782 to get a copy. They are priced at SG$49 (US$37)

Those many of you who have bought copies for themselves and their friends. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

The Tan Pin Pin Box Set contains award-winning Singapore GaGa, Moving House and Invisible City. Invisible City is only available as part of the box set and it is not sold separately. Invisible City contains liner notes written by Alfian Sa’at, DVD commentary between myself and Tan Siok Siok as well as a short documentary about Ivan Polunin’s (under-rated) Sound Archive. Singapore GaGa has a myriad of specials, including an interview with Juanita Melson, Victor Khoo and myself in a bumboat along the Esplanade. The whole package was designed by mindwasabi. Buy it now!

Photo of Launch at Kinokuniya!

Editor’s Note 3/4/22: DVDs of Pin Pin’s are sold out, but her films can be accessed through Pin Pin’s VOD platform vimeo.com for features or tanpinpin.com for the short films. In Southeast Asia, Singapore GaGa and IN TIME TO COME screens on Netflix

For institutions who collect or want to screen or teach her work, please email bfgmedia.hello@gmail.com directly for institutional prices and usage.

My Films’ Biennale Screening Details

The Singapore Biennale opens next weekend. 63 artists from the world over including nine of us from Singapore are showing work in four locations for two months. Since the theme of this event is “process”, the curators have chosen to highlight not just my recent films, but my doggerel as well.

I will be showing six films including my first film, Moving House (1997) and two new works, one of which (Snow City) was just completed two weeks ago. They have chosen not just the documentaries but a drama (Rogers Park) and a short experimental work (Ivan Polunin’s Sound Archive). The films will play in a loop for the duration of the Biennale at the Moving Image Gallery at 8Q Singapore Art Museum.

>>On Sat, 12 March, 2.30pm at that location
, I will be in attendance to present the Singapore premieres of the two new works, The Impossibility of Knowing and Snow City. The screening followed by a Q&A will last an hour, admission details are below. I look forward to seeing you.

The Impossibility of Knowing
11 min, HD, 2010 Singapore Premiere NEW
The director visits locations that have experienced tragedies in the past to look for a clue of those happenings. Featured locations include the Nicoll Highway tunnel collapse site, Seletar Express Way, where a rare deer was run over, and a canal at Bukit Batok Ave 8 where a drowning took place. Under the scrutiny of the camera arises a dialogue between images and the voice over, between past and present and between what we imagine and what really happened.

Snow City
16 min, DVCam, 2011 International Premiere NEW
A film that is the result of a Singapore walkabout featuring polar bears, snow, a river crossing and a tunnel opening

9th August
7 min, mixed video formats, 2006
A ritual that never changes, the Singapore’s National Day Parades from 1965-2006. This was commissioned by the National Museum of Singapore to be the finale of the History of Singapore permanent exhibit there.

Ivan Polunin’s Sound Archive
DVCam, 5 min, 2008
Film ethnographer Ivan Polunin gave the director sound recordings from the 1950s. Locations covered include the swamps at Tuas to a coffee shop. This piece examines the veracity of such recordings which are disembodied from the visuals.

Rogers Park
16mm, 11 min, 2000
A drama about a latchkey boy, his neighbour upstairs and the neighbourhood cat and its owner. They all converge in a way that only cinema can manipulate.

Moving House 1997
Beta SP & 16mm, 21 min, 1997
The director films the exhumation of her great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s gravesite. They were the first in her family from China to stake their ground in Singapore only to be exhumed 80 years later. This is the earlier version of a work that eventually won the Student Academy Award in 2002

Total Running Time: 1 hour 12 min. The films play in a loop

: Moving Image Galley, 8Q, Singapore Art Museum
8 Queen Street, Off Bras Basah Road. Phone: (65) 6332 3200
Time: 13 March – 14 May (2 months) Opens 10am-7pm daily.
Entrance: $10, free if you are a student

Snow City

Here’s a still from “Snow City” which will have its international premiere at the Singapore Biennale. Its an accidental film because it was made while we were fiddling with my extensive but random archive of Singapore scenes. Fiddling, fiddling, fiddling, and at some point we realised that the material actually held together. Held together by what, its still hard to say. It felt dreamlike while we were editing it so you could say it was held together by a feverish dream.
Its a short work and my partners in crime are editors by Sun Koh and Inez Ang.

Presenting SNOW CITY

Singapore Biennale 2011 and other news

Two new documentaries and several rarely seen ones at the Singapore Biennale 2011!

The Biennale will host the Singapore premiere of The Impossibility of Knowing and the international premier of Snow City. The premiere takes place on Sat, 13 Mar, at the Singapore Art Museum. It will be followed by a Q&A between Matthew Ngui, the Biennale’s director and myself. There after, the works will be screening in a loop at SAM’s Moving Image Gallery on a loop from 13 Mar-14 May.

Please watch out too for Moving House 1997, (21 min, 1997) my first film made while I was still lawyering. Its a film about my great grandfather’s exhumation. Look out too for “Ivan Polunin’s Sound Archive” (5 min, 2008). The former was edited by Jasmine Ng Kin Kia who was instrumental in pulling it all together.

In other news:
The Impossibility of Knowing is also screening in competition at Visions du Reel, Nyon, Switzerland, land of Helvetica in April. I hope to be in attendance.

Finally, I have been invited to present my films at Flaherty Seminar in New York. The legendary documentary film seminar where participants put themselves through 7 days of watching, breathing and dreaming films from dawn to dusk. I learnt so much from the Flaherty as a grad student many years ago. I look forward intensely to this experience again.

Questions anyone?

The wait for someone to ask a question. Scanning the seats, the microphone boy poised to bound up the stairs in a flash. Anyone?

Tan Pin Pin & Mun Jeong-hyun

The Impossibility of Knowing was screened after Mun Jeong-hyun’s feature Yongsan. I have to say the two films though very different, were well paired together. The world premiere took place at Paju City, DMZ Docs on Sept 11. The screening in Singapore is being organised for next year in 2011.

On Community

I am speaking in a conference organised by the British Council called Making Community, in a panel with Noor Effendy Ibrahim and Hong Lysa! More details here . In this clip, I speak about how film can create a community. Its shot by Victric Thng in the kitchen

Part of Making Community takes place in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood which since has become a poster child for the ideal Singapore neighbourhood (scale, scale, scale, location, location, location) The conference itself takes place within a Tiong Bahru institution, the Society for the Physically Disabled at Chay Yan street which in the context of this conference is apt. The conference site is alive site that is continually updated and connected. Impressive and very new media. To register, go to http://makingcommunity.sg and click on Registration. The 2 day event is S$85, including a ticket to Mem Morrison’s play Ringside.

Evergreen students strike a pose

Professor Julia Zay all the way from Evergreen College, Olympia, Washington USA screened Singapore GaGa alongside Jem Cohen’s Lost Book Found for her class Non/Fictional Cities, Countries, Worlds. She also screened Mysterious Object at Noon. She sent pictures of her students scribbling furiously after the screening, Here, they strike a pose. Thanks Julia


Singapore Cinephile in Criticine

Written for Criticine – a love letter on a topic related to S.E. Asian film for an issue dedicated to Alexis and Nika. I wrote about Hai Leong’s love for Cinema.
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Singapore film culture and community cannot be written about without mentioning Toh Hai Leong. He seemed to be at every major Singapore film milestone by sheer force of will. I have yet to meet anyone who loved films and was as passionate about it as Hai Leong was. He was Singapore film’s most ardent supporter.

I first met him at the Singapore Film Society screening of Citizen Kane in the early 90s. He was then the secretary of the Society at a time when film culture was defined by film societies such as these. I didn’t have the money to buy a membership but still wanted to watch Kane, so he sneaked me in. I have never forgotten that moment of kindness. From that time, sensing a kindred spirit, everytime we met, he would talk about the latest film he had seen, his writing (reams, long hand) and the latest festival he had been invited to (Hong Kong usually). He spoke very fast, spoke non-stop and spoke always about film. He was and still is my most intense brush with cinephilia. It was as if his life depended on it, and perhaps it did.

When film culture shifted gears into the video era in the late 90s, and film watching (and filmmaking) democratized beyond the Goethe Institute and the Film Society, many of us gathered around the Substation, an arts space which programmed our films. Hai Leong was there too. He hung with us wannabe-filmmakers, most half his age, drinking tea at the shabby S11 after screenings. He still spoke fast, and he still talked film with an intensity that could be scary. There was a hunger in him for friendship, for a community and it seemed that he found that in films and amongst filmmakers. By then, he was supporting himself as a security guard and living hard but he came, and there was always a seat reserved for him at the Substation. We met again at the 2003 Bangkok International Film Festival. He could not afford the plane fare so he had bussed overland for two days to Bangkok.

This is not an obituary but it is in the past tense. Hai Leong was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes a few years ago and, how should I put it? He lost the will to look after himself. He forgot his injections and he had to be retrieved from the brink several times. Something just snapped, perhaps his illness caused it, but along went his will to enjoy, to love and to care, not just for films, but for himself. Needless to say, he stopped showing up.

He now lives in a full-time care-center to ensure that he is fed, that he takes his meds and injections on time. I cannot bring myself to visit him but I am glad some of us in the film community still do.


This picture was taken by Ho Choon Hiong at Hai Leong’s 52nd birthday on 21 Mar 2007. Some friends in the film community took him out for dinner.

Back row : L-R Mdm Kwa P Y, Jasmine Ng, Zhang Wenjie, Charles Lim, Wee Li Lin, Kristin Saw, Yuni Hadi, Philip Cheah
Front row:L- R Ho Choon Hiong, Toh Hai Leong, Chew Tze Chuan

In 2007 Chew Tze Chuan made a documentary about Hai Leong’s struggle with his illness, called F. It premiered at the Singapore International Film Festival.