Film about exiles banned in Singapore


   New York Times Blog
September 10, 2014
ArtsBeat : By CHEN MAY YEE   

A DOCUMENTRAY about the lives of
Singaporean exiles has been banned in Singapore on the grounds that it undermines national security.

To Singapore, With Love by the Singaporean filmmaker Tan Pin Pin was classified as NAR, the Media Development Authority said Wednesday. NAR stands for “Not allowed for all ratings,” meaning it can neither be shown nor distributed in Singapore.

Ms. Tan had traveled to the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Thailand to film the lives of nine Singaporeans, in their 60s and older. Among
them were trade unionists, student leaders and Communists who fled in the 1960s and 1970s, for fear of being imprisoned under Singapore’s Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial.

In the film, they speak about their homeland, and how they cope in exile – by frying up a plate of Singapore rice noodles, or flying in
to meet loved ones in neighboring Malaysia. One of them, Ang Swee Chai, a surgeon in London and the widow of another exile, said she found renewed purpose in life by traveling to provide medical aid to Palestinian refugees. For Ho Juan Thai, a former student leader also
in London, the fear of being somehow accidentally sent back to Singapore kept him from marrying until he was 60.

The 70-minute movie had its premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea last October. It has been shown at festivals in Berlin, Bangkok, Seoul, New York, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai, where Ms. Tan, 45, won an award for best documentary director at the Dubai International Film Festival.

The Media Development Authority said it took issue with the film’s version of history. “The MDA has assessed that the contents of the
film undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of  
Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimized innocent individuals,” the agency said in a press release on Wednesday.

“The individuals featured in the film gave the impression that they are being unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore,” the agency said. In fact, it added, former Communists can return “if they agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past activities to resolve their cases” while other “criminal offenses will have to be accounted for in accordance with the law.”

To Singapore, With Love, was slated to be screened by the National University of Singapore Museum in late September, along with two of Ms Tan’s earlier films. She said in a statement on Wednesday that she was “very disappointed” by the ban.

“I made this film because I myself wanted to better understand Singapore. I wanted to understand how we became who we are by
addressing what was banished and unspoken for,” Ms Tan said. “I was also hoping that the film would open up a national conversation to
allow us to understand ourselves as a nation better too.”

She added: “Now, the irony [is] that a film about Singapore exiles is now exiled from Singapore as well.”

The film will be shown in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, just across the  border next week as part of the Freedom Film Festival.

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