The space she lives in

DOK Leipzig: The Singaporean filmmaker Tan Pin Pin is holding a masterclass as part of her extended homage at this year's Dok Leipzig festival.
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: October 27, 2019
Tan Pin Pin-Dok Leipzig-interview-featured

As Tan Pin Pin tells Modern Times Review, she tries to give the audience a sense of someone who is always sensing their surroundings. As someone who has spent practically her whole career making films about the space she lives in, Tan identifies the difficulties, pleasures, and questions one has when making films on one’s own country.

What does the art of making a documentary film mean to you?

The art of making a documentary film is the art of making film, period. I don’t really see documentary as a separate category of cinema. For me, it usually starts with an idea or a moment, even a certain smell or a feeling. And by listening and observing, that moment or idea can be fleshed out into a work that moves with time and space.

Do you start making a film with a purpose in mind?

I usually start with a question. I rarely take on projects that doesn’t pique my interest. The first question for me is – is this something I want to find out more about? Learn more? For example, making a documentary about John Woo for Discovery Channel was for me an opportunity to learn everything about John Woo and to watch all his films. I’m not an action movie fan, but I was very interested in his work so I decided to take on that project so that I could learn more about him. Similarly, for Singapore GaGa – there were many personalities that I wanted to meet like my favorite ventriloquist, so I used the documentary as an opportunity to meet them and learn about their work.

How do you generally find the people for your films?

I find out about them from the newspaper or from a book, sometimes even from Facebook. For example, a few of the interviewees featured in From Singapore with Love – I had read about in a book that consisted of first-person accounts by Singapore political exiles. And then I thought it would be interesting to meet them to find out about their experiences living abroad and what it’s like to not be able to come back to Singapore.

«It is very hard to get a permit to have a political protest because they say it disrupts business.»

What about your


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