Film on exiles, To Singapore, With Love, has four screenings at arts festival in London

Filmmaker Tan Pin Pin's documentary To Singapore, With Love played at four sold-out screenings over two days in London, with many among the audience curious to watch it after the film was barred from public screening and distribution in Singapore by
Filmmaker Tan Pin Pin's documentary To Singapore, With Love played at four sold-out screenings over two days in London, with many among the audience curious to watch it after the film was barred from public screening and distribution in Singapore by the government. -- ST PHOTO: TAN DAWN WEI

LONDON - Filmmaker Tan Pin Pin's documentary To Singapore, With Love played at four sold-out screenings over two days in London, with many among the audience curious to watch it after the film was barred from public screening and distribution in Singapore by the government.

Organisers here originally slated the film for two screenings at the SEA ArtsFest, but added another two after tickets were sold out within a few days.

In all, nearly 600 people, many of them Singaporean students studying in the United Kingdom, watched the 70-minute film at screenings here on Monday and Tuesday.

Ms Tan told The Straits Times on Tuesday that she was happy with the response.

"The film is under appeal. I look forward to the matter being resolved," she said.

The documentary contains interviews with nine Singaporeans - who live in Britain and Thailand, some of them for more than 50 years - on why they fled the country, their political beliefs and the feelings they have towards Singapore.

Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA), however, said the exiles gave "untruthful and distorted" accounts of how they had to flee and remain outside Singapore.

Hence, the film "undermines national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals".

The MDA gave it a "Not Allowed for All Ratings" (NAR) classification which rules it out for public screening or distribution in Singapore.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition to the MDA protesting the classification and Ms Tan has appealed to the Films Appeal Committee, an independent panel, to let it be screened in Singapore.

 Ms Annie Jael Kwan, curator and producer of the SEA ArtsFest, said she decided to feature it at the festival after watching it in May.

Said Ms Kwan: "I felt To Singapore, With Love is a sensitively crafted film that gathered and shared stories, Singapore stories that I never heard, growing up."

"These stories made me re-think the complex history of our country ... Whether one agrees or disagrees with political stances or ideology espoused in the film, it felt important to know about these other perspectives and experiences."

 Ms Kwan said she continues to receive requests for more screenings of the film. The documentary has been screened in Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. It will continue its tour of the film festival circuit to India and Egypt.

During a question-and-answer session with Ms Tan on Tuesday, several Singaporeans expressed similar sentiments.

They said they were not well-acquainted with those episodes in Singapore's history, such as Operation Cold Store in 1963 and Operation Spectrum in 1987, when the Government rounded up politicians, activists and student leaders whom they accused of communist or Marxist activities.

 "It's important that Singaporeans know about it; it's a history lesson that was never taught," said Mr Benedict Koh, 22, a Nanyang Technological University student on vacation in London.