Interview with Eva Tang, Director of The Songs We Sang

Eva Tang

The Song We Sang is a story about an era – in forgotten historical records of Singapore – where music is revolution. Historical turmoil in the journey of language alteration in Singapore caused big life changing in that era’s generation. Publicist Team of Festival Film Dokumenter was have a chance to interviewing Eva Tang (E) as the director of The Songs We Sang. The interview with this Singaporean director was about her films, social and political issues in Singapore, Documentary film in Southeast Asia, and how can The Songs We Sang be able to be a milestone and retrospection on cultural history in Singapore.

You’ve been so long in the film industry, what makes you sure to work in this field and how is your country thinking about this industry?

E: In Singapore, film industry is still a baby. Previously, there were so much turmoils that happened in the social life in Singapore, from the country’s history, language, and the gap between generations. Because of that, Singapore documentary film mostly tells about presenting who are we, about our identity as a country. Me myself like to explore in those realms, as example about politics in Singapore that very influential in determining who we are.

The Song We Sang as an independent documentary had been breaking box office records when it released, according of you, how could this happened? Is there any personal proximity between the majority of your audience?

E: The Song We Sangs can be very successful in Singapore was because of the main theme of this film. What had shown in The Songs We Sang has never been discussed by other filmmakers in Singapore before.  The history about language alteration in Singapore is an important and valuable turning point for the Singaporean. Changes in National language of Singapore from Chinese to English was happened so fast. As the result of this change, people who were born in 1970-1980s felt the gap with the next generations. English utilization was initially forced by the government, without english they can go to school because all school in Singapore is using english. The Song We Sang, specially discussed about this generation gap. Audiences’ perception about this film can be different, as example from the audiences who are from Chinese ethnic based school compared to them who are attending the universal school (English School). So may Singaporean youth that watched this film felt marveled when they found 2 Singaporean that talked with fluent Chinese. This showed them that the gap between old generation and young generation is very big.

This film was showed in the cinema for 6 weeks, beside that, the government was very much supporting it, this was proven by the Prime Minister of Singapore who took part in buying the ticket to watch The Songs We Sang. This film becomes the first Singapore’s documentary film that whowed in the cinema. Before, there was a stigma in the audiences in Singapore that documentary is identic to boring things, but with the presence of The Songs We Sang , the fears about boring documentary films dissapeared. So, the successfulness of this film was of course because if the lifted content and people who’re going to discuss it. The audience felt so touched after watched the film, so many of them were crying, they felt the reality of themselves in the film. Even, there is audience that has watched this film in the cinema for 8 times. I think, this film is able to touch the audiences feelings deeply.

Eva Tang saat Q & A selepas screening The Songs We Sang di IFI-LIP Yogyakarta

What makes you to use Xinyao (Singaporean Songs) to be the subject of this film? Is there any personal story behind it?

E: the story is actually simpe, about youth people, age below 20 whose hobby is making songs.when he started to make a song, he never think about the commercial matter of his work. He made those works only for entertaning people around him and to bring friendship out of himself. His works are pure, innocent, and simple. The those musics that called by Xinyao became popular, showed youth works of that era. Historical stories about this music became a valuable story, so i really like to lift is as a documentary film. This film showed that Singapore is having cultures, eventhough the cultures is now a forgotten aspect in Singaporean lifestyle. They who were born in 80s forced to have pragmatic and practice attitude and demanded in economic development. Because of this demand, Singapore was always considered as uncultured country, so this film wanted to show that Singapore owns a movement story about music and culture.

This year, Festival Film Dokumenter is lifting the title of ‘Displacement’ with the intention to present the issues about displacement in the aspects of space, time, or idea. From discrimination, repressive government, and negativa stigma of things such as: disability, sexual orientation, or morality belief. Is there any same dynamics about these issues in Singapore?

E: In my opinion, Singapore itself is ‘Displacement’. That is because until now, the identity of Singapore still being a controversy. 70% of Singapore’s population is Chinese, but no more talking Chinese. However, Malay Ethnic as the original ethnic of Singapore is not dominating the population. Moreover India, is being the minority in Singapore. From those ethnic that’s living in Singapore, no one which being the centre of Singapore. When the Chinese is said to be the centre of Singapore, that can’t be like that because they are longer talking in Chinese. So because of that, original identity of Singapore is still a big question mark. The Singaporean is using Singlish (mixed language of Chinese and English), yet the government suggested to use english properly. I think this difference can be called as displacement.

Besides, as a small country, so sectarian is becoming something very valuable in Singapore. There’s no old thing that preserved. The old looking buildings will be destroyed and changed with the new one. This makes Singapore always looks so new. There are no histories or memories for Singaporean. When they’ve grown up, the Singaporean will never found their elementary school builing. Singaporean is also uset to live sedentary, so it will so hard to find their old home, or their parents’ home in the past, where is their grandparent’s home. Things like that can be called as displacement, right?

Back to the film, how is the middle aged people in Singapore that i think they have closer personal proximity towards your film – responded to The Songs We Sang?

E: For those who were grown up before Singapore’s independence, they really understand about what is been discussed in The Songs We Sang. They thanked me and felt really touching emotion when watched the film. While for the more young generation, they got surprised with the existence  of those stories. The thing that makes me touched is when seeing a mother with her daughter watched the film together, they from different generation and then the daughter is finally understand that so much struggle that had to be done in the past.

What is your impression of this year FFD. Is there any interesting story of you staying here?

E: I think Indonesian Documentary is full of passion. When i talked with Indonesian documentary filmmaker, i got so much story about documentary film making in here. There are so much effort to make one documentary film here. Difficulties are also felt in bringing the documentary film into cinema. So, the implementation of Festival Film Dokumenter can be a concrete effort. I saw so much young people that involved in this festival, meaning that student community in Jogja wanted to move impressively supporting documentary film. I hope, the government and mass media can give more support to this festival, because media can be a determinant in publication successfulness of a work. [Valentina Nita / Ellyta Rahmayandi]

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