TIONG BAHRU’s London debut

As it debuts abroad, a short film set in Tiong Bahru is showing the world a side of Singapore that is different from the usual images of high-rise buildings and placid prosperity, writes Alison De Souza in The Straits Times, 5th Febuary 2011

The 19-minute CIVIC LIFE: TIONG BAHRU, about a day in the life of three Tiong Bahru residents as they make decisions that will affect their families and communities, made its British premiere at a small arthouse cinema in London on Monday.

British university lecturer Sean Wood, 53, felt it provided a new perspective on a place many do not know well. He said: ‘Singapore is a Far Eastern country that doesn’t get as much in the press as China and South Korea. But with this film, you get a sense of the textures of the society. It’s not so perfect and pristine and there are people with real lives and anxieties.’

Schoolteacher Dee Hinton, 60, got updated on the country of her birth. Her father served in the British army and she was born in Singapore, where she lived till 1966. She said what she saw on screen was ‘far more modern and sanitised than the Singapore I knew’ but the hawker centre scenes brought back other memories. ‘The food – I could almost smell it.’

The film’s portrayal of family dynamics also struck a chord with Ms Hinton. ‘That’s how families ought to be. I feel that, by and large, the Brits are very bad at looking after old people. In Singapore, that’s part of the way of life,’ she said.

CIVIC LIFE: TIONG BAHRU is part of a series of short films by Irish film-makers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor on the relationship between community and place and on themes such as identity and belonging.

Since 2003, they have shot nine Civic Life films in various cities in Ireland and England, each one a community-based project involving local cast and crew.

Tiong Bahru is the 10th instalment and the first set outside the British Isles. Shot at the historic estate and market in June last year, it involved a cast of more than 150 local volunteers. It was shown in Singapore last October.

Molloy and Lawlor’s efforts seemed to go down well with the London audience, who were guests at a special screening organised by the Singapore International Foundation and attended by the Republic’s High Commissioner to Britain, Mr Michael Teo.

During the question-and-answer session, Lawlor said: ‘Initially, you think everyone in Singapore is a millionaire or something, which they’re not.’

For those more familiar with Singapore, the film was especially easy to relate to. Mr Benjamin Foo, a 30-year- old Singaporean studying for his master’s degree in London, said: ‘The stories in the film, such as the grandmother thinking of moving in with her son, are very real and are things that have happened to people around me.’

CIVIC LIFE: TIONG BAHRU, which was shown at a film festival in Rotterdam last week, will hit the screens at a festival in Dublin later this month and at selected British cinemas later this year.

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