In January 2009 when UK-based filmmakers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy walked into the Tiong Bahru estate for the first time, they were immediately struck by the uniqueness of the architecture and design of the estate and hawker centre and knew they had found a great location for a Civic Life film. Thus began a process which would result, 18 months later, in the short film TIONG BAHRU.
TIONG BAHRU had its world premiere at the National Museum of Singapore in October 2010, before playing at the Encounters Short Film Festival in Bristol in November. It then went on tour of the UK as part of a programme of the CIVIC LIFE films and has been screened at the Rotterdam, Dublin and Sydney film festivals, as well as at Indielisboa in Portugal, the ACMI in Melbourne, Regiofun in Poland, and most recently, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris as part of Les Rencontres Internationles.
TIONG BAHRU is an engagement with the residents of Tiong Bahru and the traders and users of the Tiong Bahru hawker centre to creatively explore, both physically and imaginatively, this special neighborhood. The thoughts, reflections and responses of hundreds of Singaporeans gathered since early 2009 informed and shaped the making of TIONG BAHRU. The resulting 20 minute film was shot on location in the Tiong Bahru estate in June 2010.
TIONG BAHRU is the 10th in the acclaimed CIVIC LIFE series, a unique and richly cinematic series of films made in negotiation with local residents and community groups. At the centre of the work is the relationship these communities have to the environments in which they live and work. All the CIVIC LIFE films were shot on 35mm cinemascope and make extensive use of the long take.
Directed by Joe and Christine, lensed by leading Singaporean Director of Photography Daniel Low and featuring a cast of over 150 local volunteers, TIONG BAHRU tells the story of 3 Tiong Bahru residents over the course of a single day, as they reflect on who they are, who they want to be and the meaning of home, family and community.
The film was a commission of the National Museum of Singapore, in collaboration with the British Council, the Singapore International Foundation, and with support from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the People’s Association and Arts Council England.
The making of TIONG BAHRU was complemented by a 90-second short film competition, WHERE THE HEART IS, a collaboration with DepicT!, a strand of the Encounters Short Film Festival. The competition received an overwhelming response, with filmmakers producing works that were quirky, heartfelt, provocative and exhilarating. See the winners of the competition here.
A further element is a creative writing programme, WRITING THE CITY, a series of six online films in which leading Singaporean novelist Suchen Christine Lim and UK novelist Jeremy Sheldon discuss the fundamental elements of writing fiction and invite viewers to respond to each aspect through a writing task that takes as its starting point the relationship between writing and the urban environment. The first film of the series, THE WRITER’S EYE, was filmed in Tiong Bahru hawker centre and can be found here.
You can see the production stills from the set of the TIONG BAHRU shoot here.