Tan Pin-Pin Shares Singaporean Documentary Films

During the week of October 15 through 19, Colgate University welcomed Global Filmmaker-in-Residence Tan Pin Pin. This cooperative event with the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, the longest continuously running film event in North America, brought students, faculty and community members together in Golden Auditorium to view selections of Pin Pin’s films. This lecture also included Flaherty NYC Curator Dessane Cassel for a conversation regarding Pin Pin’s work in documentary film and the contemporary state of cinema production.

Based in Singapore, Pin Pin’s films chronicle and question the gaps in history, memory production, documentation, records and archives. Her films study the process of self-examination and poignantly explore the complexities involved in introspection and critical thinking with emotional power and visual clarity. Pin Pin’s films have screened at well known festivals including Berlinale, Hot Docs, Busan, Cinéma du Réel, Visions du Réel, SXSW and the Flaherty Seminar. She is also on the “Asian Cinema 100” list of top 100 directors, compiled at the Busan International Film Festival.

During the lecture, Pin Pin shared her personal journey of self-realization and exploration of national identity; she discussed intimate and familial issues of attachment to land and land use, and the juxtaposition of governmental decisions working against social resistance. The concepts of place, archival memory and systems of remembrance permeated her discussion.

Pin Pin’s film’s are deeply rooted in Singapore’s rich history and struggle for independence. In 1965, Singapore became an independent republic. It is a geographically small nation with a population of 5.6 million, according to the 2017 census. Pin Pin argues that this presents the problem of a lack of resources and space to support a growing population.

In her first film, the audience saw the exhumation of Pin Pin’s relatives. Pin Pin poignantly shared during her discussion, “there’s no land for the living – how could there be land for the dead?” Land in Singapore is too valuable, and thus it is common practice to exhume relatives from their burial sites. These issues are present in Pin Pin’s backyard, and she discussed her journey of research and learning about Singaporean issues before exploring larger global processes.

The second clip that Pin Pin shared was from a film in which she displays the musicality and soundscape of Singapore. Pin Pin discussed how filmmaking gives one the reason to approach people who one may not usually interact with. Thus, documentary filmmaking is a path to exploring different, unconventional parts of Singapore in an effort to reunite the nation as a type of unified subject matter. After Pin Pin interviewed her subjects in the film, she discussed the process of filmmaking as having an archival quality. She asked the audience what it means to have a personal archive, what qualities memory possesses in daily life and created the groundwork necessary to link archival memory with the individual mind and artistic practice of documentary footage.

Pin Pin later reiterated that her films are expressions of her curiosity. She self identifies as a “noticer,” one who understands seeing as an important part of remembering. In part, Pin Pin discussed how this is due to her fear of forgetting. She explained that Singapore is a product of the decolonization process, and thus everything has been forgotten or intentionally hidden. The same government has had power for over 50 years, and the absurdity of politics have sub- merged all political competition. People also fled the country in the 1960’s-80’s because of the severe “detention without trial” laws that were used to silence political opponents. These issues are present in Pin Pin’s work, as she tackles the questions of “what could Singapore have been” from an outside perspective, attempting to look inwards towards her country. She describes the questions she juggles, regarding evidence, types of evidence, necessity of evidence and seeing/recording as the most tangible forms of evidence. Her documentary films feel raw and concentrated; her subject matter is carefully chosen and crafted to prompt these introspective questions further from her audience. Pin Pin uses film to engage her audience with the concept of remembrance as an act of political resistance.

Contact Caylea Barone at [email protected].