1 in a million

What are the chances of stumbling on an archaeological dig, in in the heart of town, at City Hall, no less?

In Singapore, not too difficult as these German tourists have found. They found Lim Chen Sian and his merry men and women excavating the City Hall and the Padang. The archaeologists are peeking under to find out what lies beneath before the earth gets churned in the construction of the National Gallery that is to be housed there. They will be there until 9 January. If you are in the area, when you go say hi, buy them nice iced Cokes! (or beer)

Chen Sian looking askance at German tourists, Wee Sheau Thng is in the pit, both in their regulation cargo pants they wore in Invisible City : )

Cricket Club in the background.

The German tourists must have been thrilled that they found gas masks and helmets from the Japanese Occupation in the field. I certainly was.

Happy new year

Latent Images, Film in Singapore, Book Launch 28 Dec

A comprehensive primer on Singapore films and film culture. This 2009 edition is thoroughly updated from the previous 2000 edition. Latent Images isn’t only about films themselves, it is also about Singapore film culture beyond the box office. There are chapters on non-commercial film culture, with coverage on SIFF, SFS, Goethe Institute, Substation, National Museum, sinema and their contribution towards Singapore film scene. Appropriately, short films and their makers are given an intense coverage as they are recognised as vivid expressions of Singapore creativity as well. The bibliography is robust. I find the top ten box office charts 1990-2007 revealing, what will they say about us in years to come!

“This extensively updated edition presents a comprehensive examination of the country’s film landscape from the early days of local film production until 2007/08. (Ridge Books, National University of Singapore Press, 2009. 368 pages, 37 colour plates, 108 b/w photographs.Soft cover. On Sale at Select, Kinokuniya”

Book Launch & Meet the authors Jan & Yvonne
Date: Monday, 28 December 2009 at 7:30pm.
Venue: Books Actually 86 Club Street, Tel: 6221-1170.
Light refreshments provided.

Mission Statements Galore

A random survey of mission statements of different schools. Fun reading!

From Doon School, India

“Each boy must train himself to think clearly so that he will be willing to come to conclusions that may be different from what he has expected and may point to something different from what we were brought up to believe to be the accepted order. He must train his body to undergo hardships and be prepared for unexpected discomforts, and above all he must awaken and sharpen his sympathies for and understanding of people outside his own class and circle”

From Friend’s School, Tasmania, Australia

“We seek to help our students develop into men and women who will think clearly, act with integrity, make decisions for themselves, be sensitive to the needs of others, be strong in service and to hold a
global perspective.”

From Raffles Institution, Singapore

“Nurturing Thinkers, Leaders and Pioneers of character who serve by leading and lead in serving”.

Yes, we are in the midst of the search for an Artistic Director for the Substation, and the mission and purpose of the Substation has been very much on our minds. What exactly does the Substation represent, and what outcome are we building towards? As they say, “What is our value-add”?

Raffles statement seems the safest, to produce citizens to feed the system. The former two, centred on values, appear the most anarchic. I would love to see how they effect those values. Its interesting that Doon school makes privations part of the curriculum. Famously, students are only allowed toast and tea for breakfast, privations necessary to allow them to stand alone if needed.

Spectacular Failure

What is the point of making a work if it doesn’t have the smell of failure in its broil. Few people realise that its that teetering on the brink of…nonsense/silliness/anger/WTF feeling that gives a work its heartbeat and human-ness. And to that end, I love the idea of a failure, and a spectacular one at that. This would be a work that tries to reach for the sky but does not hit its mark by far, but certainly not for the want of trying. No safe familiar trajectories here.

I had a great time Korea. Its my third trip there, and for the first time, I had time to watch many Korean films and have conversations with Koreans – the DMZ International Documentary festival was sequested in Paju Book City so we had to gather in the hotel lounge every night to talk, there wasn’t anywhere else to go. The tone of the whole trip was set by a harrowing trip to the 38th Parallel on my first day. I think everyone who wants to understand Korea must make that visit. I was at DMZ because I was one of four directors commissioned by the festival to make a documentary about “peace and co-existence”.

Thinking about what to do for this and since we have free reign for this project I feel that now is time to take on an unfamiliar path, and from here on too. If it be a failure, it must be a spectacular one. Just priming you.

Meanwhile, here is a picture of some of my friends, amongst them Korean documentary luminaries, all sharing soju and conversation. Lee Chung-ryul one of the directors came over with four boxes of roast pork to be shared with everyone.

I miss them.


Clockwise: Kim Dong-wan (Director, Repatriation checked shirt, bald ), Mun Jeong-hyun (Director, Grandmother’s flower), Lee Chung-ryul (Director, Old Partner), Hong Hyosook (DMZ programmer), Jung Sangjin (Cinus cinema chain owner)

38th Parallel

I am leaving for Paju the Korean city nearest the North-South Korean border soon to visit the DMZ (the contested no man’s land between the two states). In the itinerary, we will be going on a cycling trip along the border. Yes, this is part of a shoot for my next film. I have always wanted to visit the 38th Parallel and now I am.
Meanwhile, Singapore GaGa is now available on Amazon.com, the universe’s emporium. Please leave a comment!
And don’t forget to sign up for the 7th Fly by Night Video Challenge. (Closing date 25 Oct)

Editor’s Note: 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.

Persistent Visions, 11 Sep Fri, 6pm

London based, Singapore-born artist Erika Tan’s 3-screen installation Persistent Visions is opening at NUS Museum on Friday Night, 11/9/09. Persistent Visions is counter programmed against I, Polunin, about the films and photographs of Ivan Polunin. In her piece, she draws upon the “visual materials collected individuals on various colonising missions and deposited in the archive of the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol”. The two works echo nicely against each other and hers is well worth standing through, all 24 minutes of it. We both hope the Polunin’s work will stay in Singapore, and won’t end up in Bristol.

As part of the opening, Erika Tan and I will be chatting. We will talk about our experience making work about/around archives. I will show a bit of 9th August where I processed through 40 years of national day parades and chat about Invisible City. We will both touch on artistic strategies we employ in making work about history.


Ivan Polunin’s gear, featured in I, Polunin, cameras, audio recorders, players of evey format, generation used to make his images

Group picture

At Yakun, 24 Aug 5pm, picture taken by Lillian Wang

Clement, Royston Tan, Eva Tang, Boo Junfeng, Wee Li lin (jet laggged, but smiley), Victric Thng, Yeo Lee Nah, Han Yew Kwang, Liao Jiekai, Ho Tzu Nyen.

Screenings here and there

Singapore GaGa and Moving House are screening in Tokyo next weekend in a festival of Singapore films organised by Yumi Matsushita and her Japanese friends, all of whom have spent some time in Singapore and want to introduce Singapore to the Japanese. Thank you Yumi and friends, for all the work organising and translating. I wish I could come! Lovely and telling poster too.

Meanwhile as we speak, Invisible City is on tour in Taiwan, its part of a tour of Taiwan International Documentary Festival award winners organised by the Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. Here is the schedule. I am this close to chucking it all and going on tour with the films.
2009 / 07 / 31

2009 / 08 / 21

2009 / 09 / 25

2009 / 09 / 26

2009 / 10 / 05

2009 / 10 / 05

2009 / 10 / 09

2009 / 10 / 10

2009 / 10 / 11

2009 / 10 / 14

On the 5 Sep, am screening Singapore GaGa to the NYU Tisch-Asia students, screening follows with a Q&A, will be interesting

I, Polunin

Ivan Polunin Prepares at tuas.jpg

Am looking forward to the documentary, Lost Images, featuring Ivan Polunin’s footage of Singapore which he took of 50’s, 60’s Singapore. It is commissioned by okto channel as part of National Day celebrations. Lost City would have been a more appropriate title, the Singapore that he filmed does not exist any more, which is all the more reason to see it. Lost Images features his footage with many of us commenting on it. It is directed by Peter Lamb. For me Polunin represents the last of the swashbuckling colonial explorers and I had the pleasure of interviewing him for Invisible City. In the still above taken from his footage, he is packing for a trip off Tuas. In his boat, he packs a few durians!

Details: okto channel, Mon 10 Aug, 9.30 pm

In tandem with this documentary NUS Museum features an exhibition of his photos that opens from 8 Aug-22 Nov. A must see as much for the Singapore it reveals as for the way of seeing. He is now in his 80s, frail, I know he will be happy for both these tributes.

Catch a short interview him here (part of trailer for Invisible City)

s/pores drinks sun 26 jul 6.30pm


s/pores is an online journal exploring different aspects of singapore society

s/pores is launching its new look, its new URL and a new issue which I guest edited this sun evening at food 03

the three great essays which I am very happy to help birth in issue #4 are:

yu-mei balasingamchow once bonded (on being a bonded scholarship holder)

ho weng hin reminisces on a hdb point block (on the most resilient design trope in singapore?s public housing pantheon)

lee huay leng beyond language learning (considers language learning guided by different imperatives)


i am not sure how an online journal is “launched”, (someone presses a button?) I do know the s/pores gang will be there all at hand for food drinks and conversation. The writers of this issue will be there too. meanwhile s/pores is looking for writers so do come to meet the s/poreans if you are keen to write for them

ps food 03 serves great vitagen vodkas amongst other drinks

time: 6.30pm

address food 03: 109 rowell road, between little india and jalan besar

cash bar basis

rsvp events@s-pores.com to help us plan the evening

Filmmakers change a light bulb

We recently had a filmmakers’ town hall meeting at the Substation. The event that sparked this off was the sudden cancellation of the filmmakers travelling grant given out by Singapore Film Commission. SFC has replaced it with a grant called “Inspire” which applies only if you have a pre-arranged meeting with a sales agent (ie there must be a potentially commercial outcome from the trip). Inspire came into operation 2 months ago, and its application isn’t clear. About 30 of us met to
I don’t have more details yet because we are still in the process of deciding what our “thing” is, who can join, how we vote and make decisions. All the basic stuff that makes a group a group, a country a country. Or we may not last beyond this issue. My view is we need representation within SFC and MDA so there are good sustainable reasons to stick together and then some.
The next next meeting is on Wed, 23 July, 7pm, Substation. Send an email to filmcommunitysg@gmail.com to introduce yourself and be added to the group. More on Inspire here httpa;//www.smf.sg, under “Business Centre / Funding”.

Taken by Substation

A Good Life?

A Singapore high school teacher told me that he screens Moving House to his students. Normally it is shown as part of social studies so I was surprised when he mentioned that he showed Moving House as part of his philosophy class. I didn’t even know they taught philosophy in high school. I asked him what topic of philosophy would warrant Moving House being shown, he said they are dealing with the question “What makes a Good Life?”. WTF! Posing this to 16 year olds? I suppose its never too early to ask this question though I have only just begun to grapple with it myself (and its collorary “How to Live?”), it is not easy to answer it . . even with some help
Moving House Still HEAD 2.jpg

Singapore GaGa’s porno grab

The Singapore GaGa site has been hijacked by a porno site because I was too busy and forgot to renew my domain name (ie singaporegaga dot com) so someone else bought it (Russian) and put the most heinous picture on the homepage. They put the picture there to taunt me I am sure.

The fact that you have to now be confronted with a picture of a woman being raped on the splash page, is at the end of the day, my fault.

I could write to the new owners, ask them to give it back to me for a fee (they will squeeze me hard I know, so one has to be nonchalant in these negotiations) or just wait for the address to expire after one year, hope they don’t renew it, and then try to buy it back

Couple of things

1) Please accept my apologies if you have to accidentally see the site, I was traumatised

2) Don’t ever let this happen to you, this could have been prevented if I took my domain name re-sellers email warnings more seriously, but my emails overflowed and it was forgotten

3) This article gives you some guidance as to what to do when something like this happens, not much, since it lapsed and was legitimately bought
4) I am now going through my sites to redirect all singaporegaga.com stuff to https://www.tanpinpin.com/sgg

If you happen to link Singapore GaGa somewhere, pls change the links too!

Into the dark

Moving House screened at this year’s Oberhausen Short Film Festival in a programme curated by David Teh and Gridthiya Gaweewong called Unreal Asia. I couldn’t make it and asked if the organisers could take a picture of the audience for me (I am sentimental like that). They did with what looks like a night vision camera, you can see the audience watching the movie, their posture relaxed (sleeping?). So voyeuristic.


Month of living dangerously

Its been one of the most exciting past 6 weeks which rejigged my insides
Volunteered with hospitality at the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) – was girl friday to Amos Gitai, fetched him coffee etc etc
Watched and liked his films One Day You Will Understand, Free Zone, Promised Land
Conducted James Lee’s Q&A for Call if You Need Me at SIFF

Went to Police HQ to get a licence for Amir Muhammed’s film’s Q&A (a first in Singapore, a licence for a film’s Q&A?)
Almost ran for politics (Arts NMP)

Canvassed for people to attend AWARE’S EOGM (“I am not very political” “sorry I got something on”)

Voted for an Arts NMP (Congrats Audrey, Loretta)

Voted at the Aware’s EOGM
Voted at my block’s Lift Upgrading Programme (Free walnut cake!)

Was a matchmaker and chaperoned a friend on a blind date (Food was good)

Attended my first EOGM. It was better than a rock concert, you all should have come

Wrote a script outline and now clearing the deck to write it.
Wrote a grant proposal for a documentary and submitted it in the middle of all that

Shot for a documentary that yet has no name

Edited three essays that came in for spores!

Met the Swedes

Attended an accordion concert

Went bowling


One plug, please go watch Sell Out by Yeo Joon Han, its probably the last week in the cinemas. Its like a good Raffles Hall skit +++ side splittingly silly funny, has a protagonist called Rafflesia Pong

Duck Tours

I am guest editing an issue of s/pores and one of the articles I commissioned is a social history of braised duck by Liew You Choo. She is a street food historian (Singapore’s only) and she has a regular column in Zaobao which I read. Last week I went round the City photographing for her article. After that I really couldn’t eat duck for a long time. It was also my first time using a digital SLR. It is so nice to manually focus. No more auto focus!





Look out for the upcoming issue of s/pores

Shooting with film!

A few of us were given Diana F+ camera recently to play with. Its a fully manual medium format still camera made entirely of plastic and the photos are now on display at Objectifs. The photos, blown up to 5×5 inches are on sale from S$5+, all proceeds go to AWARE. Of all our works, I highly recommend Grace Tan’s (kwodrent) F+ experiments, they blew me away, I bought a few of her works.

What is interesting with film cameras like F+ is you can’t really see what you are shooting (the viewfinder isn’t accurate), so you exercise a totally different set of muscles as you visualise the photograph. It is a good pedagogical tool too since everything is manual. I love the pinhole camera function

Dates: The exhibition Mar 20 – Apr 14, Mon – Fri 11am – 7pm, Sat 1pm – 5pm
Venue: Lomographic Embassy Singapore / Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Filmmaking
12A Liang Seah Street
Details: Free admission, open to public


Teotihuacan, Mexico City

I spent 3 years in the USA and did not for a moment think of visiting South America. I had no interest, did not even think of it. I can kick myself that I dismissed a whole continent just-like-that. Why? was it too south?. After my recent visit to Mexico City for documentary festival Ambulante, I will go back there at the drop of a hat. It is too interesting and of course, Spanish is one of the most beautiful languages.

A picture from Teotihuacan, the Mexican pyramids taken with the Lomo Diana F+ camera. More on that later


Being a filmmaker

A coming out story of another sort, how Leonard Lai (“High Cost of Living”) became a filmmaker, an excerpt below.

“I have been making films for about 5 years now, going into my 6th year in 2009, with little results to show. I will be 36 years old in 2009, how many more years do I have?

I don’t know whether other filmmakers go through periods like this; when I am thinking that I must be crazy to even try to make films in Singapore, let alone films that are not commercialize, little films that means much maybe only to me. It doesn’t help when family doesn’t support you. When one tells you often enough that you don’t have what it takes, slowly your will and determination starts to erode, starts to decay.”

Well worth a read, if only to counterpoint the “I made my first feature film when I was 12” bios, people think artists are just born without realising that for many, it is a decision to be made to become, not something one drifts into. To read more of about his journey, click here.

His essay also begs the question, what does it mean to “be a filmmaker”? What is one really committing to?