A Signing Off

By Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor

With just one final screening to go (7.30pm, Tuesday 26th October at the National Museum) we thought we’d use this opportunity to enter one final blog on the project (don’t hold us to that though!!).

The TIONG BAHRU community film has already screened three times at the National Museum of Singapore. The audience numbers thus far have been incredibly high. Certainly beyond our expectations. We think much of this has also to do with the programme that has been put together by the team. After all, this is not just about the Tiong Bahru community film but also the specially selected films that Singaporean film makers have contributed through the WHERE THE HEART IS competition. In our opinion, the evenings make for compelling viewing as a collective response to the significance that place has in people’s lives. Audiences seem to be getting a lot from the screening events.

But what we really wanted to talk about has been the reaction to the short film we have made. Between the special preview that was arranged for the residents of Tiong Bahru at the GV at Tiong Bahru Plaza and the three screenings at the National Museum the responses have been both positive but also very interesting.

In our experience, you are more likely to hear positive responses from audiences to your face. I guess we’re like that too. If we like something we like to tell the makers we enjoyed and appreciated what they have done. For Tiong Bahru there has been no shortage of this. But rather than highlighting the positives we want to focus on some negative comments. This might sound crazy. Why would we want to do that you may ask? Well, we have no problem whatsoever with detractors. Indeed we welcome them as these can be very constructive. However, almost all of the negative comments we have read are not productive but rather bewildering as they say little about the Tiong Bahru film and much about the writers themselves.

We have read a few online responses from Singaporeans in various blogs that seem to be quite preoccupied by our ‘ang moh’ or ‘foreigner’ status. These texts reveal a certain prejudice about the fact that ‘ang mohs’ like us are coming into their country to do something that they could just as easily do themselves. Indeed this prejudice utterly blinds them to making any objective and aesthetic judgement.

Now, we’re not going to dwell upon the borderline xenophobic tones in the texts but it does bring to mind that this is very much at odds with our experience of working in Singapore.

We have come across a very open, positive and energetic range of people who desire to engage with their culture and to use the tools of cinema to do this. As we can see from the unbelievable responses to the film competition this is a fact. We also want the reader not to get the impression we want to hit back at these people who are negative about the project. Instead we’re using their comments to highlight a more important concern. Namely, a concern that if a culture is to be vibrant it is contingent on writers, artists, cultural facilitators to work to a high standard and without cynicism or fear and to continually to reach out. Qualities, from our experience, which Singapore has lots of.

In science and business, education and pretty much every other walk of life, exchanging ideas and building partnerships with people from around the world is central to the development of any endeavor and nowhere more so than in the production of cinema. As Irish people, coming (like Singapore) from a small island with a similar population, it would be very easy to be quite introspective and to develop an inferiority complex. Instead we can see that this is not the case and that the vast bulk of Singaporeans we have come across are very outward looking people. They fully understand that the future is actually contingent upon looking out and forging a greater sense of the international. They have nothing to fear from ang mohs like us (actually until recently we used this term ourselves and even felt it was funny but in these articles it took on a nasty and destructive tone).

We mention all of this because perhaps the central aim of our coming to Singapore was to forge relationships and to exchange ideas. We certainly have come away with many positives and hope we have left some behind also.

We recall one evening in particular when we were at a graduation event at LASALLE and we both looked around and could see all of these young graduates in fine art, film, graphic art, fashion and we wondered about their potential employment prospects. Clearly, with such fantastic buildings as the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore is taking cultural industries seriously and we sense a key moment in Singapore’s cultural development taking place right now. So this is not a time for introspection or defensiveness or wariness of outsiders. Indeed many of these graduates will seek employment away from Singapore and in turn will feel back, osmosis like, into the cultural fabric of Singapore. Again the sense of the international.

As we can see from the wonderful short films that have been submitted to WHERE THE HEART IS and the people we have met from all walks of live when making TIONG BAHRU the future looks very positive indeed and we will be watching with great interest the films (feature or shorts) that come out of a country we have grown very fond of.

Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor, Sunday 24th October 2010

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