A Letter to Eng Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II



Dear Yee Peng,

Every good film festival allows you to take home something that you can't get at other film festivals. The Singapore International Festival has never meant much to me. I never had luck. Or timing. They say they want only world premieres, so I could not submit my work. So often, SIFF is a lonely affair for me, creeping into cinemas alone, not really feeling part of this spirit. This year's decision to give these 12-13 Singapore feature films a viewing platform made a big difference. To get to the most importnat point, it gave me a chance to watch your film and attend your Q & A. The experience on that Saturday afternoon gave me that something to take home from SIFF this year.

I know nothing about kampungs or farming. I grew up in a HDB flat straightaway. And the topic is not interesting to me. So I came to watch DM2 with little expectation but with a hope that the documentary would not be too long.

Your choice of a personal style, and I dare say angry style, made a lot of difference right from the start. The fact that you aimed straight at the points that were directly relevant to you made it very watchable indeed. This includes pin-pointing that the danger sign was the former location of your kampung. Like having a good tour guide, I knew I was in good hands and followed you from one issue to another. You were even funny, like how you never managed to pull out the Chye Sim without its muddy roots while the expert next to you nailed every attempt.
As the documentary progressed, that persistent, skeptical and somewhat adamant voice in you surfaced slowly. It defined the flavour of your documentary but on the other hand, made it all the questions you were asking seem rhetorical because you already took a stand right from the start towards the current and imminent changes seeping into the area. I somehow recalled vaguely how DM1 was a much-talked about documentary and suspected your very unique voice in it was the reason so. And as you probed further into the wisdom of these new agri-tainment developments and lament the the real kampung flavour that was diminshing, I felt like something of a collision was going to take place.
And the turning point came when you interviewed a middle-aged lady whom I learnt moments later was your mother. Her message was simple - to `move on'. Thereafter, you finally questioned the flaw in your initial argument and came to a resolution about leaving the redevelopment matter to rest. And to reinforce the conclusion, you captured another defining image of Lim Chu Kang - the cemeteries. This struck an immediate chord in me because I remember the depressing Sunday night bus journeys across these cemeteries back to the Sungei Gedong army camp.

Thinking back, if you were so level-headed about the whole agri-tainment issue, maybe the voice of the documentary would have been more of a whimper. It was truly nothing less than a shout, a scream from you. Maybe stylistically, it could have been more restrained, eloquent and less preachy. But you showed me something that I would keep for a long time. Mission.


The sense of mission did not end with your film, it had only begun for the following Q & A was about to make me helplessly emotional. At first glance, you look like the quiet sort. But your spirit is more than palpable. The best word I can think of is unabashed. Many filmmakers work hard but are sometimes too afraid to wear that badge of mission and drive on their sleeves. They don't want to seen as trying too hard. Because if they fail, maybe less people will take notice. I can't help but feel this is a very Singaporean trait, not just in filmmaking. I succumbed to it somehow along the way. But seeing how you pursue your goal, I am going to change that and find back the `devil-may-care' in me.

Honestly, the portion of your mother's interview in the film felt a little incomplete. Like I was missing the bigger picture and you just took out some hard-hitting points and included them in the film. I mean, it still had its effect but it was a fraction of the resonance that I felt from the `live' sharing by your mother later on. She said she was concerned that you only came out of the room to eat the fruits cut by her. She remembered how much you sacrificed and lost weight for your craft. She said she did not agree with your choice of career at first. Finally, she cited that the family is not rich and that she could not support your films like other parents and all she could do was offer little manual tokens of help here and there.

Money is not a dirty word. It is something I would often think about. My parents often talk in circles about things that link back to money. It is a very pertinent issue that ties in so many emotions in it our context. My parents would never think of giving me money to make films. More importantly, I will never ask them to do so. Despite loving films and making them, I can't help but feel like it's against my conscience to ask them. What I heard that Saturday afternoon will make me remember that someone who also had no recourse to deep pockets and warm familial support had gone on to make 2 very strong feature-length films. By the end of the Q & A, my cheeks were soaked in tears and I walked out of it already knowing what my concluding thoughts for this year's SIFF would be. This is bearing in mind, I still had 2 very good films to watch - `Flower in the Pocket' and `18 Grams of Love'.

I want to thank you for making it special for me. I assure you none of this is dramatised for sensationalising my write-up. I wish you all the success in your future projects.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy

If your watched DMII , please leave comments in Yee Peng's website ( http://diminishingmemories.spaces.live.com/ ). She is very eager to know more about what people think.

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