Some 2 years ago, I had watched Diminishing Memories at the National Museum, and found it to be a very intriguing piece of work, in which director Eng Yee Peng shared, through film, her memories of a Lim Chu Kang rarely seen. It was a very personal piece of village life from the past which is now no longer existent in Singapore (not in the old, authentic and charming nature), and it all seemed rather distant, despite our very short modern history.
In fact, I guess almost every army boy would have travelled along that stretch of road at one point in time or another, where a narrow two lane stretch separates temporarily because of a road island. Back in the mid-90s during my tour of duty, I drove along that stretch fairly frequently (yeah I told you I led a double life, and even had double army vocations!), little would I know that some 10 years later, I now realize that the inconspicuous landmark has more significance to a filmmaker, because it served as a post marker to where her childhood home is. And without which, there would be great difficulty as she admitted, to access
This documentary is possibly the first local feature documentary sequel to have picked up where the previous had left off, and the title holds meaning. With memories, like it or not, they start to diminish into the subconscious, and get hazy with each passing day. While we can fairly recall broad moments in time thanks to anchors to connect to, the little details get lost, and probably we could jog our minds with the assistance of photographs and video from archives, without which, we can only start to imagine and fill in the gaps, and herein lies opportunity for inaccuracies to creep in.
Yee Peng returns with a more assured voice both literal and figuratively speaking, and a more mature handling of this documentary. It showed slight detachment from the subject, perhaps because this time round the whimsical nature of reminiscence, and the interviews with subjects very close to her heart (like immediate neighbours and her own parents), gave way to an exploration from the outside, of someone from the past revisiting a location of the present, where once she had spent wonderous childhood moments in, and now having its landscape changed, and becoming unrecognizable.
If you've read the newspapers, Lim Chu Kang is now an area earmarked with redevelopment plans to convert 3 parcels of land into "agri-tainment" areas, complete with resorts and spas. And Yee Peng now examines what this means to the current batch of farmers, the new inhabitants of a space she once called her own. We get to go behind the scenes into the farms, and with food undergoing intense media attention for its price hikes, one wonders if Agriculture for entertainment purposes, or the more pragmatic approach to try and expand production to ensure less reliance on imports, should be looked into instead. This documentary sets you thinking along these lines, as the director probes and discovers more about such development plans, and the predicaments faced by the current farmers such as how changes in land leases will come to affect them sooner rather than later.
There are also focused shots on the rich flora and fauna ecosystem of Lim Chu Kang that demonstrated that there's indeed a lot more to offer on that piece of land. It was also amazing to have watched this film with key members of the audience from the screening of the first film, such as Ivy Singh-Lim, who owns a bistro at Lim Chu Kang, and the elderly Indian gentleman (sorry I don't have your name!) who had once asked if Yee Peng was going to make a sequel (and it became this movie) to the original film. Like a gathering of seasoned community folks who have now come together again to experience something with one another, it's akin to just having an extremely small glimpse of the kind of kampung spirit of the past, and I am sure that kind of spirit from the previous inhabitants of Lim Chu Kang, and the current ones, are much, much stronger of course (given that they have banded together to actually petitioned for public bus services, then realizing that they could do it better, went ahead with it on their own, and proved themselves right).
I had mentioned before when I watched Diminishing Memories, that it deserved a place in our film archives for its preservation of lives that once were, or a lifestyle now almost forgotten. I shall repeat that call again, simply because Diminishing Memories II is a well made follow up and excellent companion piece, with enough merits to stand alone too. Although set in current times, it will no doubt be a gem when new and proposed development to the area spring up, and again in keeping pace with our obsession for inevitable change in the name of progress, it will serve as a reminder of what once was a rustic charm that had to give way if we're callous.
Diminishing Memories II deserved to be watched, and of course, preserved too for future generations. For those who have not had the opportunity to watch the first one, check out the Related Links below. Put together, both films have something valuable to offer, and to experience. Which brings me to ask if more of us would pay a visit to the area too!
The Q&A session after the screening was a combined one, but here are those questions that were relevant to Eng Yee Peng's feature documentary. As usual, I have paraphrased (for the better I hope) for clarity and readability. For those who are spoiler wary, please read something else. You have been warned.
Q: How was the scene of you on the back of the lorry shot? And the documentary's rather one-sided?
A: My cameraman had to wind down the window from the passenger seat, and sat on the window, with one hand holding the camera, and the other supporting himself from the precarious position! It's deliberately one-sided because I did not want to make a journalistic documentary. I want to represent a weak "people's" voice, in contrast to the strong authoritative voice from the authorities.
Yee Peng also shared that there was a press release today with one of the companies featured in the movie, declaring their plans for their agri-tainment operations in Lim Chu Kang. While some would like the new development, others like herself who has deep emotional attachments to the area, will inevitably feel different about it. This documentary also provided her an avenue to find out more about the new community now situated at Lim Chu Kang, and allowed her to come to terms with it when revisting the location.
Q: Has anyone commented before that you actually made yourself to be the documentary subject, and have an obsession with the location?
A: At the end of the screening of Part 1, I had thought I could have moved on. I'll not be making Part 3 for a couple of reasons. I've deliberately chose myself as a central character and a resolution was found in Part 2. If you noticed, the feeling here is more detached compared to Part 1, so in fact any news / journalistic documentarians can come in and pick up on it. Part 1 tells about the sense of loss, while this one is about coming to terms with it.
Ivy Singh-Lim, one of the featured interviewees, was also present in the audience in this World Premiere, just as she was during the screening of the first movie. She also mentioned she's gonna have this movie screened at their community hall, and gave her words of encouragement and support to Yee Peng to continue making documentaries that capture a slice of Singapore that had been lost.
Q: What's your next project going to be?
A: To gain weight!
Yee Peng also gave us some uncanny insights during the making of Diminshing Memories 2, that each time she headed outdoors for a shoot, the skies somehow are always grey, which had actually reflected her mood.
I had earlier conducted an interview with Yee Peng, and you can read about it here.
Click here to visit the Official Movie Website of Diminishing Memories II.
Click here for instructions on how to purchase a copy of Diminishing Memories I.
There will be 1 more screening of Diminishing Memories II at this year's SIFF on 12 April Saturday 4:15pm at Sinema Old School. Tickets are still available!
Book your tickets now by clicking on this link:
12 April Screening
The SIFF Singapore Filmmakers Interview Series
Kan Lume, Writer-Director of Dreams From The Third World
HAN Yew Kwang, Writer-Director of 18 Grams of Love
ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II
Sherman ONG, Screenwriter-Director of Hashi
James LEONG and Lynn LEE, Directors of Homeless FC
Lionel CHOK, Producer of To Speak
Harman HUSSIN, Director of Road to Mecca