Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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Local film about political exiles banned by MDA

Award winning film, “To Singapore, with Love” by Singaporean film maker, Tan Pin Pin which depicts stories of Singapore political exiles has been classified  by the Media Development Authority (MDA) as Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR). This means the film has been banned from public screening in Singapore.
The film tells a range of stories, from a doctor who fled to London was so moved by the plight of the Palestinians, exiles themselves, that she devoted her life to providing medical care for them. Another young activist who also fled to London, graduated from Oxford University and became a human rights lawyer. Another joined the Malayan Communist Party and he fought in the jungles of Malaysia and Thailand. He and his comrades are now living their final years in Southern Thailand. Yet another still religiously reads the Singapore news because he wants to return to politics.
MDA released a statement saying that it has assessed that the contents of the film undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals and said that under the Film Classification Guidelines, films that are assessed to undermine national security will be given an NAR rating.
The statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) added that the individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they came to leave Singapore and remain outside Singapore.
MDA wrote,

“A number of these self-professed “exiles” were members of, or had provided support to, the proscribed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). The CPM sought to overthrow the legitimate elected governments of Singapore and Malaysia through armed struggle and subversion, and replace them with a communist regime.
One of the interviewees in the film claimed that he had no choice but to join the CPM after he left Singapore when in fact, he was an active CPM member even before he left Singapore. Indeed, as another interviewee who left Singapore in similar circumstances admits, a number of Barisan Sosialis activists then were already members of the Malayan National Liberation League, the CPM’s political wing, before they fled Singapore with its help and subsequently joined the communist guerrilla forces. In another attempt to white-wash their security histories, two of the individuals in the film conveniently omitted mentioning the criminal offences which they remain liable for, like tampering with their Singapore passports or absconding from National Service.
The individuals featured in the film gave the impression that they are being unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore. They were not forced to leave Singa­pore, nor are they being prevented from returning. The Government has made it clear that it would allow former CPM members to return to Singapore if they agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past activities to resolve their cases. Criminal offences will have to be accounted for in accordance with the law. “

MDA pointed that the above facts had been published at the time of these events, and are on public records.
However, it remains a fact that detainees under the Internal Security Act (ISA) have never been put to any open trial and convicted of their alleged crimes even decades after they were released.
Chan Sun Wing and Wong Soon Fong who are being featured in the film, were both members of Parliament from 1959 to 1963 before having to escape from an arrest under the ISA in September, 1963 just weeks after they were announced as elected members of the parliament. They were granted “long leave” from their position via announcement in the press and media after they written in a letter to the parliament about their dire situation.
The interviewee which MDA was referring to about joining the CPM is Wong Soon Fong. He joined CPM after fleeing on exile from Singapore, to Indonesia, Macau, China, Thailand and eventually to Malaysia. (see here for Wong Soon Fong’s interview)
The film has won a number of awards overseas, namely,

  • Winner, Best Director, Muhr AsiaAfria Documentary Awards. Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF)
  • Winner, Best Asean Documentary, Special Mention, Salaya International Documentary Festival
  • Winner, Asian Cinema Fund, Busan International Film Festival

The head of the three-person judging panel for the Muhr AsiaAfria Documentary Awards, British writer Tony Rayns, said that their decision was unanimous. The film was selected from more than 3,000 films screened at the DIFF.
Many others have also given positive reviews of the film,

“Expertly crafted, enormously moving” – Film Society, Lincoln Center
“The only Singaporean film that truly deserves to be called a “must see”. A brave, intelligent, sensitive, heartbreaking and humbling work that left my head spinning” – Colin Goh
“All of Tan Pin Pin’s previous work has been moving towards this courageous point.” –Tony Rayns, Head, Jury, Dubai International Film Festival
“This moved me to tears. Every young Singaporean of my generation should see this, in fact all Singaporeans should see this. It’s a slice of our history that shouldn’t be forgotten, and hopefully properly acknowledged in the near future.” – Anthony Chen
“The most important Singaporean film I have ever seen.” – Woo Yen Yen
“Vital” – Jeremy Tiang
“Tender and searching, deserves to be watched by the largest Singaporean audience possible, and more than once.” – Chan Cheow-Thia
“To Singapore, With Love” is a necessary film. That it is very well made is a bonus. Extremely moving and thought-provoking.” – Koh Jee Leong
“Stylistically concise, with so much heart.” – Kirsten Tan
“A moving, heartbreaking work on unrequited love for one’s country” – Traslin Ong
“A very delicate and intimate gaze into the lives of Singaporean political exiles and their families.” – Paolo Bertolin, Venice International Film Festival delegate
“If you feel touched, it may be because of the production’s impressive ability to weave sentiment from small details, food, poetry, songs, and photos.” – Cine21 (Korean cinema magazine)

Though the film has been banned from screening in Singapore, those who wish to view the film can still catch a screening of it at the Century Hotel in Johor Bahru on 19th September, 5:40pm during the Freedom Film Festival held in Malaysia.

Tan Pin Pin
Tan Pin Pin
Statement by Tan Pin Pin, Director and Producer of “To Singapore, with Love” on the classification by MDA.
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 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.

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