Tan Pin Pin's In Time To Come shows everyday life in Singapore in special ways

Tan Pin Pin's documentary In Time To Come lets audiences explore and make meaning of everyday scenes in Singapore

In Time To Come shows everyday scenes such as students raising the national and school flags at assembly.
In Time To Come shows everyday scenes such as students raising the national and school flags at assembly.PHOTO: TAN PIN PIN

In film-maker Tan Pin Pin's new documentary, snapshots of Singapore life are shown in a mostly mute fashion. Subjects rarely speak and there is no narration or text to explain what is happening.

In her work, In Time To Come (PG, 62 minutes), students raise flags at assembly, kayakers paddle in a reservoir, workers fog a housing estate with insecticide or cut down a tree. Shot mostly in wide-angle, the camera is held still and the footage is edited for long, uninterrupted takes.

The technique gives viewers time and space to explore the images, to take in details of their own choosing and discover their own meaning, says Tan, 47.

Taking a description from meditation, she calls it "noticing your breath disappear".

"Too often we are having information and facts given to us. We are not using the qualities of cinema," says Tan, the maker of other creative documentaries Invisible City (2007) and Singapore GaGa (2005).

"These are regular everyday scenes, shown in a special way," she says. She was speaking to the press after a screening of the film earlier this month.

I want to show what happens behind the scenes and how events repeat across time.


People are shown exhuming and preparing to bury time capsules. In the moments before the official opening of the Marina Coastal Expressway in 2013, workers perform mundane tasks.

"I want to show what happens behind the scenes and how events repeat across time," she says.

She hopes, in our "handphoneobsessed world", cinema audiences can "sit back and let the film wash over you".

To achieve the sense of immersion, she worked with sound designer Lim Ting Li (Pop Aye, 2017; Apprentice, 2016) to create a soundscape.

Tan is pleased that the documentary will be screened in a mainstream cinema equipped with surround sound and a large screen. "To see it without the proper sound system would be to get only half the experience," she says.


  • WHERE: FilmGarde Cineplex, Level 5 Bugis+, 201 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Oct 4, various times

    ADMISSION: $11

    INFO: Director Tan Pin Pin will be present at a Q & A at the 7.30pm screening tomorrow and both daily screenings from Fridays to Sundays. Go to fgcineplex.com.sg

This is her second work to get a mainstream screening. The first was her short film Pineapple Town, included in the 7 Letters (2015) omnibus. Previous works have been screened on arthouse and festival circuits.

In Time To Come was shot from 2012 to last year and was conceived before her last full-length documentary, To Singapore, With Love (2013), which features interviews with political exiles. In 2014, With Love was given a rare Not Allowed For All Ratings (NAR) classification by the Media Development Authority.

Her latest work has been rated PG. It has travelled to documentary festivals such as Visions du Reel in Switzerland and Hot Docs in Canada.

Tan says audiences overseas were puzzled by rituals that people here can immediately grasp, such as area fumigation or the sight of a city blanketed in haze.

When viewed without context, such scenes take on an otherworldly aspect for foreign audiences.

She says: "For them, it becomes a science-fiction time-travel film. You never really know when a scene has been shot. The present becomes unstable."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Immersing viewers in the mundane'. Subscribe