Review: From Victoria Street to Ang Mo Kio (2019)

From Victoria Street to Ang Mo Kio crystallises a segment of history about Singapore’s first Catholic missionary Chinese girls’ school. It encapsulates the essence and ethos of the institution through the passage of time, simultaneously paying tribute to the inspiring educators who earnestly shaped the minds of their students.

The 70-minute documentary film is commissioned by St Nicholas Girls’ School Alumnae Association to commemorate the school’s 85th anniversary this year. Directed by St. Nicholas alumnus Eva Tang, whose previous work was The Songs We Sang, the documentary is beautifully interweaved with touching interviews and re-enactments of past events.

As a former St Nicholas Girl myself, the film was eye-opening. I’ve heard stories from my mother; she was an Old Girl too (that’s what we call our alumni), when the school was still located at Victoria Street. But growing up, my sisters and I attended St Nicholas when it was already located at Ang Mo Kio, for a solid ten years of primary and secondary education. Yet through the film, my mother’s oral histories were transformed into a visual experience for me.

In my 7-year-old mind, the colossal building and vast school grounds of the Ang Mo Kio compound was confusing and daunting. But now, I can only imagine the desire of the students and Sisters at Victoria Street to have more facilities, as they had to have lessons at makeshift areas.

The school’s rich history is reflected in the film as it documents the origins of the school as well as its growth from its past to the present. Using the transition of black and white to coloured scenes as a parallel to the passage of time, it is a vicarious and nostalgic experience for the audience, especially for Old Girls. Coupled with fresh faces and stunning imagery, the film’s docudrama style helps to transport audiences into the past.

Needless to say, the documentary depicts several conflicts ranging from communist undertones to the rivalry faced between Chinese and English schools. Education was a prominent theme explored in the film with a huge focus on the efforts of the educators as the students try to grapple with being effectively bilingual. Being a Chinese school, it was an uphill battle to inculcate the use of English in its students. But with the zeal of the principal, teachers, and administrators, St Nicholas eventually became one of Singapore’s top schools.

Watching a documentary about my alma mater on the big screen definitely brought back memories. It was strangely poignant; I could understand and relate to these women who were twice, perhaps even thrice my age.

A memorable scene etched in my memory was when the girls were upset with the decision made by higher authorities regarding their new school building. In that moment of sadness, one girl muttered the lyrics of the school song. Gradually, the others chirped in one by one and subconsciously, I found my lips moving along and echoing the school song with them despite graduating a decade ago.

As seen in the film, St Nicholas Girls' School has since evolved and will continue to do so. After the renovation, the school grounds at Ang Mo Kio are now reconstructed and new to me, but one thing’s for sure; the spirit of our school will always be in us.

From Victoria Street to Ang Mo Kio is a great watch for all Old Girls and current girls alike, and it will be equally informative for educators as well as mainstream audiences.

From Victoria Street to Ang Mo Kio was screened at the Singapore Chinese Film Festival 2019.

Written by Christine Seow

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