Monday, March 31, 2008

[SIFF08] An Interview with ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II

This year's Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF), into its 21st edition, runs from 4th to 14th April, and features an unprecedented 13 local feature films and documentaries in a Singapore Panorama section.

ENG Yee Peng had made a documentary about her village hometown, Lim Chu Kang, that had to make way for progress and development in the area. Her first documentary, Diminishing Memories, charts a lifestyle in Singapore no more, and collates fond memories of a life bygone. The follow up to that documentary will now make its World Premiere at the SIFF, and I take the opportunity to talk to Yee Peng about her new film:

Stefan: Hi Yee Peng, I have a slew of initial questions for you. The last time I watched Diminishing Memories on the big screen was in 2006. Will an audience be required to watch the original film first to jog their memories (no pun intended :), or will the new movie cover some background as well? How different is Diminishing Memories II from the original Diminishing Memories? Is it an entirely new documentary altogether, with a vastly different direction and content covered? Or is it an update of the first movie with new interviews included?

Yee Peng: Diminishing Memories I and II are independent films of their own, which means you do not need to watch Part One to understand what Part Two is about. However, only by watching both Part One and Part Two will it make a complete story. Hence, it is cruel to the audience if they only watch either one of the parts. In order to make Diminishing Memories II independent from Part One, it does have a very brief background of what Lim Chu Kang was like. The content of Part Two is entirely new with new interviews and new interviewees - the current residents of Lim Chu Kang. What makes Parts One and Two become a whole is the personal journey of the director. The director’s journey continues from Part One. You see, the mental and emotional state of Part One is a 9-year old little girl who was forced to leave her blissful childhood spent in a kampong (village) environment. In Part Two, the director’s mental and emotional state is that of a 29-year old woman. With new interviewees in Part Two, you will also get to see new content focusing on the government’s new development plan to turn Lim Chu Kang into an agriculture-cum-entertainment attraction.

S: Although the mental and emotional state of part one was of a younger you, what was included in the documentary was a very keen observation of the rapid industrialization of our city state, set against a micro backdrop of the particular agricultural area, Lim Chu Kang, that you grew up in. Some environments had to go in the name of development, and you had material - from your personal photographic archives and precious memories of its inhabitants - captured for posterity. What are the key differences if you were to look back at Diminishing Memories Part One, through the eyes of today's you?

YP: In Part One, I allowed myself to indulge in the very fond memories of my childhood - the 9 year old. By the end of Part One, I got frustrated with myself as I couldn’t remember as much as I thought I did, or wished for. I wanted to hold on to my lost childhood even more so. I was afraid of letting go. In Part One, I was reliving what I had lost but the story was incomplete as I haven’t come to my resolution. In Part Two, I am no longer reliving my childhood. It was just me - the 29 year-old Yee Peng. I realized I had to come to terms with what I had lost ultimately. By the way, if you have watched both Parts One and Two of Diminishing Memories, you would have noticed the great difference in the tone of my narration voice. It was deliberate and it’s part of the delivery.

S: I guess we have to watch the film to find out! I have to admit that the last time I had not been to Lim Chu Kang in recent years, and I am unaware of the attractions now available to the public. Do you feel that there will be possible room for a Diminishing Memories Part Three for reflection on this new development plan, to examine whether these attractions had met their objectives, again especially valuable coming from someone has charted the growth of the area?

YP: I must say, I can see Diminishing Memories Part Three even before I started filming Part Two. There is indeed potential for it. However, I do not wish to produce Part Three because it would have meant that something about Lim Chu Kang must have bugged me again! I believe there are other important voices that ought to be heard too.

S: Well, it could be a neat trilogy if Part Three somehow does come about! There are currently only a small handful of documentarians in Singapore. What made you want to become one, instead of making a narrative feature film?

YP: Because there are enough people making narrative feature films and I want to be different so I make documentaries! No, just kidding, haha! I always liked things that are ‘real’. Real feelings, real people, real stories that make a true voice. I like intimacy and rawness. So I do have a liking to making documentaries more so than fiction films at the moment and I haven’t got enough of making documentaries yet. Documentaries are challenging because you can only ‘control’ the interviewees to a certain extent; you can’t control what they are going to say like an actor in a fiction film. Also, depending on the subject matter, the director might not know where the story is leading to until the end of filming. And most of the time, we will only find its story structure in the editing room. We build story structures and write scripts during the post-production stage as compared to what should already have been done in the pre-production stage for fiction films. I like challenges and a small amount of 'unpredictablity'.

S: Do you see yourself making a narrative feature some time down the road? Any upcoming projects in the near future you could share with us?

YP: Yes, I can see myself making a narrative (fiction) feature in the very far future. I do have an interest in making fiction films one day even though I would like to concentrate on making documentaries at the moment. I am interested to combine both genres ultimately. Expect nothing from me in the near future as the projects will come when they do. Thanks for your interest though.

S: And I'll be asking all filmmakers in this interview series the same last question, what do you currently feel about the Singapore film industry (if we can already start to call it so!) at this point in time, given that the SIFF has finally enough material to come up with a Singapore Panorama section, with an unprecedented vast spectrum of 13 features and documentaries making their respective premieres in Singapore?

YP: I think we can call it an industry when people working in it can start to make a living solely out of it. From what I know with people making independent films at the moment, most of them need to earn their bread and butter elsewhere ‘outside’ independent filmmaking.  Most of the time, they need to take time off to rest and make a living before they could start their next film again. So this year you see many films made by Singaporean filmmakers, this is no doubt a very good sign but the question is also, how many of us can continue making films on a very regular basis in the long-run. If we can start to make a living, we can continue this path and there shall be opportunities for all of us to grow.


Related Links
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 2 screenings of Diminishing Memories II at this year's SIFF. The first screening is on 8 April Tuesday 9:15pm and the second is on 12 April Saturday 4:15pm at Sinema Old School. Tickets are still available!

Book your tickets now by clicking on these links:
8 April Screening
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

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