Many years ago, my family and I caught an outdoor pre-screening of the Hollywood movie Erin Brockovich at Fort Canning Park.
The event attracted quite a crowd and we all sat on the grassy slope in front of a large projection screen.
There was no air-conditioning, sophisticated sound system or cushioned seats but the experience was strangely better than being in a cinema. It was almost like watching a football match, with cheers and jeers coming from the audience intermittently as the protagonist, played by Julia Roberts, stood up to the corporate honchos. Despite being a large group of strangers, we bonded over the sad and happy moments of the movie.
This outdoor cinematic experience left a lasting impression on me. It reminded me of the simple old days when people crowded in front of a television set at a community centre.
This was during a time when most Singaporeans had difficulty making ends meet, and few families could afford a television set.
Watching television programmes as a community became a nation- wide leisure activity well until the 1980s. Many enjoyed getting together to watch a variety show or to catch the news after a day at work. This also brought neighbours closer to one another and strengthened social cohesion.
As society became more affluent, the television set became a basic item in most households and people now watch television programmes in the comfort of their own homes.
I thought it would be both a novel and nostalgic idea to have community movie screenings.
Shortly after I started serving in Tampines North, I found a perfect location for this - the community courtyard beside Block 480, Tampines Avenue 9. This area is a thoroughfare for the many visitors to the shops, coffee shops and market in the neighbourhood centre, and it is also just next to a bus stop.
Since early 2012, we have been screening one movie a month at this spot. Residents get to enjoy the outdoor cinematic experience for free, and we understand that many look forward to the event.
They arrange to meet other neighbours and gather at the event with their mats and stools.
At each movie session, there are between 300 and 600 residents.
Usually, we pick Hollywood blockbusters to appeal to all segments of the audience, who are of all ages and races. But we also use this event as an opportunity to support local productions such as Ilo Ilo, 881 and Ah Boys To Men.
We have also invited directors Jack Neo and Royston Tan to talk about their films to our residents.
For the upcoming golden jubilee weekend and as part of our National Day carnival in the neighbourhood, we are showing Forever Fever on Aug 7, and Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen on Aug 8.
"Unbelievable"? star Chen Tianwen and some of the actors from Ah Boys To Men will also be making special appearances.
During other occasions, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Halloween, activities are also organised alongside the screening to make the programme even more exciting. We also started the practice of celebrating the birthdays of residents born in that month before each screening.
Regardless of whether it is a humble black-and-white television set or a big screen, what matters most is a place and occasion for residents to come together and enjoy the community spirit.
• Tampines North's Movies Under the North Stars event takes place at 8pm every first Saturday of the month.