Reviews of Sandcastle and Invisible Cities (Films for Social Change)

Screening: February 25 and 27, 2013, 1-3.30pm

Venue: CIT Auditorium

Films: Sandcastle. Written and directed by Boo Jun Feng

             Invisible City. Directed by Tan Pin Pin



“Film is extremely flammable and it reacts on all kinds of fumes that are extremely combustible.” – Tan Pin Pin during the post-screening panel.


After watching Sandcastle by Boo Junfeng and Invisible Cities by Tan Pin Pin, I left the auditorium with many unanswered questions. The films were shown as part of the Films for Social Change series organised by the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), a CNM affiliate organisation that specialises in health communication research.

For me, both directors certainly achieved their goal of challenging the audience to question and go beyond what was presented at the literal level of their works.

Boo’s Sandcastle was inspired in part by Tan’s documentary film Invisible City, particularly by an interviewee’s experiences with the 1950s Chinese Middle Schools Riots. The title, Sandcastle, is an allegory for memories.  Like sand, memories are transient and mutable.  Like sand, the memories of a country, can be ephemeral and disconnected from its citizens, especially, from its younger citizens.

In the film, we follow En, a boy waiting to enlist into the army. En discovers an old letter written to his mother from his late father who was a student activist in his youth and later exiled from Singapore because he was thought to be a communist. This letter shows En (and us) a different viewpoint of national history from official accounts.

We hear the heart-felt voice of a man intimating with his long-suffering wife about the need to hold onto one’s ideals and principles. The voice brims with the longing and pathos of husband and father who had to make the invidious choice of being separated from his loved ones in order to stay steadfast to his cause.

I came away with a clearer sense of how those Chinese students in the 1950s and 60s might have felt towards the cause that they were championing. Although all the protagonists were Chinese, this heartfelt film still appeals to a wide audience as it deals with universal themes such as loyalty, family and love. The comments made during the post-screening conversation with the director Boo indicated that many members of the audience had taken away something personal from the film.  As Boo explained, films “help people to see issues because [they are] humanising”.

Invisible City, on the other hand, is a documentary that features documenteurs in their search for other histories of Singapore. The film retained an organic, raw feel through frequent cuts between each documenteur’s story, and photographs and footage of old, pre-independence Singapore.

Tan’s film nudges us to delve into our history and understand why people continue to record things even though their efforts may go unrecognised. The film foregrounds each documenteur’s assiduous effort and their struggle with fulfilling their mission of leaving something behind for future generations. Their dedication inspired more than a few in the audience to record something for posterity to remember and cherish.

The audience witness the past through a montage of archived materials guided by the archivists themselves. Tan explained that she wanted to capture “something that people want to say very dearly [even if the audience had to] work to understand [it].” She hoped that the authenticity found in these narratives will resonate with the audience. The many thoughtful questions asked after the screening proved that the film had left a deep impression on the audience.

These two films have a universal humanism that inspires empathy and change. Watching them fueled my hunger to learn more about Singapore’s alternative histories and to question the official narratives we have taken for granted. I even found myself overcome with emotion at the screenings.

I believe that these two thought-provoking cinematic works of art with their focus on memory and history, bring us a step closer to engaging with national issues, which hopefully creates an impetus for positive change in Singapore.

The writer is a second year CNM student. She is taking NM3219 Writing for Communication Management this semester.

Research Talk by Mr. Joshua Wong

Title: Video Games for Inter-Religious Empathy.

Date and Time: Wednesday, 20 March, 3:00 PM

Venue: CNM Meeting Room, AS6, #03-33, 11 Computing Drive, S117416, FASS, NUS

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Religious diversity and religious pluralism is a growing trend in the world today. There is an increasing need for people to develop an understanding and appreciation of the religious faiths of their peers, neighbours and co-workers. Are there ways in which new media technologies – particularly video games – can contribute to inter-religious understanding? Video games, with their ability to offer complex simulations of real-life situations, present a perhaps unique medium for people to experience life in another person’s shoes. In this talk, I outline the ways in which video games can help build inter-religious empathic understanding, and then present a case study of player reactions to a simulation game which placed people into a worldview very different from their own.

About the speaker:

Joshua Wong recently graduated with a Master of Arts Degree in Communications and New Media. He designed his first board game when he was 12, and has since gone on to develop many other games both as a hobbyist and as a professional. He was part of the team that created CarneyVale: Showtime, an award-winning game now available on PC, Xbox360 and mobile. His research interests lie in the intersection of video games and religion, values-based design and affective technologies.