by Tan Wah Piow
How do you tell the story of Singapore through the opening of an old Time Capsule, and the closing of a new one? This is especially challenging when the time lapse between one, created in 1990, and the other, is just 25 years ago. The task for a filmmaker is even more formidable when you invite the audience to contemplate what the future would be “In Time To Come”
This new film by Tan Pin Pin is very different from her politically controversial work To Singapore With Love, a film about political exiles. In “To Singapore With Love”, the protagonists tell their stories. As Pin Pin warned me over an Italian lunch in Zizzi at the Light Cinema in Sheffield, “this is a very different film, a very quiet film”.
As many who had watched the film described their experiences as surreal, I shall avoid the word.
The film opens with a calm scene of the young boating in a stretch of water in what appears to be early morning in an unspoilt natural spot. It is not immediately recognisable as Singapore, and that is where Pin Pin sets out her time travel into the future.
We have glimpses of the old time capsule hoisted out of the ground, images of a bottle marked “Singapore River” dated 1990, two young female workers giggled as they unwrapped a brick size mobile phone charger. These are followed by scenes of careful wrapping of artefacts for the new time capsule. Juxtaposing over those images is a tapestry of mundane scenes filmed over a four year period. This 62 minute collage compels you to reflect what it would be In Time To Come.
During the Q&A, a lady who had lived in Singapore in the 1980s commented on what was missing in the film – the colours and sounds of festivals and funerals. Was the omission a political statement, she asked. ‘Every film is a political statement,’ said Pin Pin. She left it to the audience to draw their own conclusions. Someone in the audience took it as an environmental statement, as there was a scene of a large tree being cut down. ‘Your take is as valid as mine’, answered Pin Pin.
The scene of school children in an open air assembly about to start the flag raising ceremony was imprinted in my mind as I left the cinema. I was there in 1960s! This is my the time travel into the past. What is new to me is the ten-minute “reading assembly” with students seated on the concrete floor in open air – what’s this ritual all about, and where would it end in time to come?
Pin Pin has once again produced an intelligent thinking person’s film, and one which is even more compelling than TSWL as the audience is forced to reflect.
The film is entered for competition at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival. Fest/Doc is UK’s biggest documentary festival and the third largest in the world. The BBC have called it “one of the leading showcases of documentary films”.
The film has premiered in Switzerland, Canada, São Paulo, Brazil and in New York City, USA, and will be screened in Singapore later this year.