Film Director Tan Pin Pin’s Travel Through Time

Published on 25 September 2017

Photo: Karine Azoub

Her latest documentary, “IN TIME TO COME”, contemplatively follows the opening and sealing of two time capsules in Singapore.

By Melanie Lee

IN TIME TO COME: School flag raising ceremony
Examining Exhumed time capsule from 1990 prepared when Singapore Celebrated 25 years of Independence

Tan Pin Pin’s documentaries have always been about documentation and archiving, and her latest one, “IN TIME TO COME” takes a similar path as she frames everyday life in Singapore through the concept of time capsules.

However, “IN TIME TO COME” also departs from Tan’s signature realistic mode of storytelling and presents a fluid and surreal perspective of the past, present, and the future of Singapore.

Filmed between 2012 and 2016, the documentary has been lauded internationally during screenings at various film festivals including Visions du Réel (Switzerland), Vancouver International Film Festival, and The Art of the Real (New York).

Said Dennis Lim, the director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, “IN TIME TO COME cements Pin Pin’s position as Singapore’s most adventurous and thoughtful documentarian, a filmmaker who handles complex themes with sensitivity and intelligence.”

With the documentary finally getting a Singapore release this week, Tan shares with The A List her insights from making this film.

Routine mosquito fogging casts housing estate in fog

How did the idea for “IN TIME TO COME” come about? 

I wanted to make a film about Singapore rituals in the way that “Singapore GaGa” (2005) was about our soundscape. In the filming of these rituals (e.g. fire drills, morning assemblies, the idea of a guest-of-honour), I found that commemoration ceremonies, such as the sealing or opening of time capsules, are prevalent too. In the edit, we used the idea of time capsules to frame the shots of what we had shot, so that this film could be seen as a potential time capsule too.

How is this documentary different from your previous works?

This film is developed from two short films I made, “Snow City”, which I made for the Singapore Biennale in 2011 and “The Impossibility of Knowing” (2010). They are more meditative in tone, less informational and focuses on the act of seeing. They are also about acknowledging the unknown, the mysterious, and unspoken.

What did you discover about the Singaporean identity in the process of creating this documentary? 

I found that we are a very hierarchical and obedient society, and there are still many vestiges of our authoritarian past still vivid in our everyday rituals.

With this film as time capsule in itself, what do you hope Singaporeans remember about this country at this point in time? 

Many of the rituals in the film feel timeless in the sense that it is not clear when they were shot. They could have been shot in the past, present, or the future. This is deliberate. I wanted the viewers to drift between these different time zones and be aware of how entrenched they are in our midst, to the extent of being unable for us to know when they were shot. When it was shown overseas, the audience asked if there was a sci-fi time travel element in the film.

How did you convince Filmgarde Bugis+ to screen your documentary? 

I showed them the film and they agreed to it immediately, for which we are grateful. It is not easy for documentaries to get a release slot in the age of blockbusters. This will be my first release in a cineplex. This film needs to be seen in the big screen because it is very experiential, and it was made to take full advantage of the 5.1 audio and large screen.

“IN TIME TO COME” will be showing at Filmgarde Bugis + on 28 -30 Sept, 1 Oct and 4 Oct 2017. Click here for more information.

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