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Interview: Tan Pin Pin

Rituals, ceremonies and time are at the centre of Tan Pin Pin’s most recent docu-film, 'In Time to Come'

By Sofiana Ramli |
Tan Pin Pin
Photo: Karine Azoub Tan Pin Pin

No voices speak in Tan Pin Pin’s latest effort, In Time to Come – just hushed murmurings of people in the background or the clacking of heels across a shopping mall floor. Shot over a span of four years since 2012, the film by the award-winning homegrown director plays with the concept of patterns and time, centred around the excavation of two time capsules. Before the 65-minute long documentary hits local theatre Filmgarde Cineplex at Bugis+ this month, we quizzed the filmmaker on her most compelling yet comforting piece of work so far.

What inspired you to make this documentary?

When I made this film, I was influenced by a line used in meditation, “you notice your breath disappear”. I want people to bear witness to a journey. For example, in the fumigation scene [in the film], you can see the drift of the fumes and how it slowly disappears. I wanted to give space to this feeling in a fast-paced, handphone-obsessed world.

Routine mosquito fogging

It’s unusual that you’ve decided to create an ‘almost-silent’ film.

Actually, not quite. There are many films that don’t have narration. And if you’ve seen my previous works such as Snow City and 80km/h, it’s pretty much a continuation of direction that I have explored for many years.

What challenges did you face during the filmmaking process?

My idea was to film scenes and spaces where people were just milling around and waiting. We ended with way too much footage and with it being shot over four years, you can imagine the amount of trawling we had to do. Also, we had to reshoot certain parts to get another angle or catch better lighting.

A flag-raising ceremony

How many hours did it take to shoot the entire documentary?

I think it was the longest shoot I’ve ever had. We shot for 56 days, which is ridiculous. In the end, we accumulated between 80 to 100 hours of footage!

Four years was a long time. What kept you going?

For me, being able to present a film like this in Singapore is something that I’ve always worked very hard towards and I couldn’t bare not finishing this documentary – especially since it has been promised.

A time capsule unearthed from Asian Civilisation Museum

I realised that time capsules play a big part in the documentary. What’s your fascination with them?

I actually never understood why I was fascinated with time capsules myself. But when I was little, there was one buried at the Singapore Science Centre, which was supposed to be opened in 2009. [Back then] I had always thought about how I needed to be there when it happened. So when I heard that the SG25 capsules were being unearthed for Singapore’s 50th birthday, I wanted to be there to witness the exhumation and witness how the capsules were being handled. I also think that time capsules in general is our country’s way of commemorating national memories.

What would you put inside a time capsule if you had one?

Well, you could say the film itself is the time capsule!

Marina Coastal Expressway

What was the reaction like when In Time to Come was screened overseas?

I think for those viewers, the movie kind of becomes and lives as a sci-fi film to them. The documentary gives off a little bit of a dystopian feel. That’s why I had so much fun editing it. The story really lifted away from Singapore because you can’t tell where or when [certain scenes] were shot. The film then becomes a floaty, time travel experience.

'In Time to Come' is showing at Filmgarde Cineplex at Bugis+ for a limited time only. Visit for more information. Tan Pin Pin will be conducting Q&A sessions on the following dates Sep 28, 29, 30 and Oct 1 at various timings. Check out the official Facebook for deets. 

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