Friday, January 14, 2011

[SG Films @ Library] Old Places (老地方 / Lao Di Fang)

Guess Where?

Okto's best rated documentary in 2010, Old Places scored a second screening on the television channel thanks to audiences wanting to experience it all over again, and from the curious who had missed it, but heard all the good word of mouth going around. I had watched snippets of it when it was screened initially, but an entrenched viewing habit meant I barfed each time commercials came on to interrupt the poetic nature of the film. Thank goodness I was hoping it'll come out on DVD (yes it will, soon!), and with the library@esplanade launching its SG Films @ Library programme, it meant watching this ala cinema style on a big screen and a collective and appreciative audience.

Ah, nostalgia! Produced by Royston Tan's Chuan Pictures, the trio of Royston, Victric Thng and Eva Tang pool creativity and ingenuity together to present, and in some way preserve in a time capsule of moving images, what is fast disappearing in Singapore's landscape. For those who are in their 30s or older, many of these places may ring a bell as they show something similar to what we experienced while growing up, and that strikes a personal affinity as you complete the film, happy when you spot something recognizable, and a sense of loss sweeping when you know that something exists no longer.

While I'm not that enlightened on Eva's filmography (so pardon me please), Royston and Victric both seem to already have some natural prep work done and made for this film, as seen from the former's films like Hock Hial Leong which was set in an old coffeeshop, Sin Sa Hong which captured a look into Singapore's oldest Hokkien opera troupe (and how Old Places had a segment on the Cantonese one) and the interiors of Capitol Theatre in The Blind Trilogy (the exterior of the cinema contained in Old Places), while Victric had a hand at producing a trailer for the 21st SIFF which was shot in a traditional, old school bread shop.

Running a crisp 77 minutes undoubtedly designed for television broadcast, this documentary assembles a series of segmented short films. Each segment in Old Places presented with an accompanying story narrated by its contributors who had phoned in to provide their personal stories, while a moving camera captures as much as it can on the topic at hand, varying angles and movement to ensure maximum coverage of a location. This could be for a large sprawling premise and tourist attraction like the Haw Par Villa, right down to a humble bus stop that withstood the test of time.

The film worked on two levels, one in allowing locations that are seeing the twilight of their years being preserved visually on film for future generations on how the Singapore of today looked like, since the rate at which Singapore is evolving and demolishing places in the name of progress is faster than you can scream "Conservation". The other level comes from the pieces of oral history provided, which is never stifling, boring nor rote, but instead comes straight from the heart. It's honest and sincere, grammatical mistakes and Singlish making it more endearing in the collective sharing of memories held close, being personal yet broad enough for anyone listening in to feel for what's being said. What more, oral history is perhaps one of the ways we get to learn about places that no longer exist, or incidents seldom heard or largely forgotten, until now.

Personally, there were a few beautiful segments that struck my emotional chord. I too spend countless of hours amusing and entertaining myself in that old school playground seen, the one based on the pit of sand with a myriad of concrete animals passing off as swings, see-saws and the like. Even with films like Old Places racing against time to preserve what's still around, one cannot discount the fact that the places are no longer pristine as they once were, and the playground captured had this circular mark of a void where I'm pretty sure a merry-go-round once stood. Queenstown also served as a memory in my growing up years, having been to the town centre where the bowling alley and cinema had seen a much better crowd.

Being a local film, this documentary is also not short on filmmakers contributing to the documentary in terms of their narration of their nostalgic moments, such as Liao Jiekai's teenage days of exploring an abandoned railway track, which was made into his feature Red Dragonflies (with clips shown in Old Places), and Han Yew Kwang recounting how a laundromat he had chanced upon eventually became the shooting locale of his first feature film Unarmed Combat.

Old Places writes itself into Singapore's film history for being that valuable encapsulation of the sights and sounds of a Singapore that once was. With the announcement of a DVD out soon, I'd wish for an inclusion as an extra feature perhaps, of the actual addresses of the places featured, so that interested parties can head on down to enjoy what they've seen on film, and experience it again in person. A Singapore film is rarely not without food, and a good selection of bakeries made its way here, for sure the foodies around will want to make a beeline to savour those delicacies before they disappear, myself included!

Related Links
Royston Tan's Interview with Ng Yi-Sheng

LtoR: Co-Director Victric Thng and Q&A Moderator Dave Chua

The audiences today had the pleasure of meeting Victric Thng for a short Q&A after the screening, where he shared what went on in the making of the film (such as the division of work and responsibilities according to geography), and the rationale behind the presentation as it was with the visuals accompanied by voiceovers. The good news though for those who had missed the screenings on television, the National Art Gallery Open House in October 2010 and today, is that the DVD should be out (and hopefully soon - this is for keeps!), and there's a sequel in the pipeline as well.

No thanks to Murphy's Law, here are two clips from the Q&A session, a bookend of sorts covering the beginning of the session, and the ending. Enjoy the nuggets of trivia!

Clip 1

Clip 2

Update 17 Jan 2011 > Contributions to Old Places 2 is now on! Click here to join the Facebook group set up to cull and gestate ideas!


From Jan – March 2011, library@esplanade, in partnership with the Singapore Film Society, will be hosting a showcase of local films – SG Films@library. The screenings will take place every 2nd and 4th Friday evening of the month.

Admission is FREE!

To find out more, check out this Facebook Page.

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