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After a decade, ‘To Singapore, with Love’ still banned from public screening in SG

Filmmaker Tan Pin Pin confirmed that a decade later, “To Singapore, with Love” remains banned from public screening in Singapore. In 2023, she sought reclassification, but authorities upheld the 2014 decision, providing only a brief response after three months.



SINGAPORE: After a decade, the Singaporean authoritarian government persists in upholding its decision to prohibit the public screening of the documentary film “To Singapore, with Love” (星国恋) within Singapore.

In 2014, Tan Pin Pin, a Singaporean filmmaker, and her documentary “To Singapore, with Love” (TSWL) made headlines in Singaporean media when the government banned its screening in the city-state.

The Media Development Authority (now known as Infocomm Media Development Authority, IMDA) at the time asserted that the film undermined national security as “the individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they came to leave Singapore and remain outside Singapore.”

“A number of these self-professed “exiles” were members of, or had provided support to, the proscribed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM),” a MDA statement wrote in 2014.

Ms Tan then appealed to the authorities for permission to publicly screen the film but was denied.

Strangely, despite the ban, tertiary education institutions in Singapore were permitted to screen the film for educational purposes.

In a recent update, Ms  mentioned that over the years, several Singaporeans have requested her to resubmit the appeal for the film.

“Usually, unless there is a change in the process of appeal or OB (Out of Bounds) markers are overtly adjusted, a decision is final, ” she noted in a Facebook post on Monday (15 April).

In 2019, amendments to the Films Act transferred the appellate authority for films like TSWL from the Films Appeal Committee to the Minister for Communications and Information.

In 2023, more than a decade after its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival, Ms Tan decided to reach out to the censors to inquire about reclassification in light of this change.

At the time, she remained hopeful that if there was a chance for the decision to be reversed, she must resubmit.

“This film is meant to be an opportunity for us to commune, for us to deliberate upon our past and future openly, together.”

After more than three months, Ms Tan received a response from the authorities.

The Ministry’s reply stated, “We have checked and can confirm that the 2019 amendments to the Films Act do not allow IMDA to re-classify the film, and the 2014 decision of the FAC on appeal is final.”

Ms Tan expressed disappointment, and wrote, “The email is but a few lines, but the three months it took for them to reply to my query suggests that that the answer wasn’t obvious, that they could have swung in favour of the film.”

“Anyway, that path was not taken. The censors have unequivocally stated that the 2014 decision stands, To Singapore, with Love still cannot be screened publicly in Singapore, ” she wrote.

PM Lee defended the plan to ban the film

“To Singapore, with Love” showcases interviews with nine Singaporean political dissidents, former activists, and student leaders who fled Singapore during the 1960s to the 1980s, living in exile.

Produced with the backing of the Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Cinema Fund, the film earned Ms Tan the Best Director award in the Muhr AsiaAfrica Documentary section at the 10th Dubai International Film Festival, as well as the title of Best ASEAN Documentary at the Salaya International Documentary Festival.

Despite its inability to screen in Singapore, the film was featured at numerous prestigious film festivals worldwide, including those in Malaysia, South Korea, England, Germany, Brazil, and the United States.

In 2014, over 350 Singaporeans crossed the Causeway to Johor Baru to attend the screening of Ms Tan’s film as part of the Freedom Film Festival.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in October 2014 defended the MDA’s decision to ban the film, arguing that allowing political exiles to present their own accounts, as depicted in the film, could be seen as “self-serving” and conveniently inaccurate.

Mr Lee at the time highlighted the case of returning Communists who had integrated into Singaporean society, such as senior leaders Eu Chooi Yip and P V Sarma. He asserted that there was no barrier preventing the exiles featured in the film from following suit.

He expressed concern that the film might gloss over certain facts or distort the historical narrative, potentially tarnishing the honour of individuals who had opposed communism during Singapore’s struggle for democracy.

“Well, they have chosen not to do so, so that’s their prerogative. But if they have chosen not to do so, why should we allow them, through a movie, to present an account of themselves. ”

“Not of documentary history, objectively presented, (but) a self-serving personal account, conveniently inaccurate in places, glossing over facts in others…” said Mr Lee.

Separately, during an October 2014 Parliamentary session, then-Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim asserted that permitting the public screening of a film offering misleading, “one-sided portrayals” of political exiles, some of whom were involved in the violent Communist insurrection spanning four decades, would imply government endorsement of violence.

Dr Yaacob outlined the government’s stance on Tan Pin Pin’s documentary “To Singapore, with Love,” which received the “Not allowed for all ratings” classification.

He emphasized that failing to address films containing “distorted and untruthful accounts” could erroneously validate their claims, suggesting that the government’s actions against these individuals were unjustified.

“It is not a historical documentary presenting a factual account of what happened. It gives a misleading account of these individuals’ past and makes no attempt to present an objective account of the violent Communist insurrection that they had participated in and have not renounced. ”

“To allow public screening of a film that obfuscates and whitewashes an armed insurrection by an illegal organisation, and violent and subversive acts directed at Singaporeans, would effectively mean condoning the use of violence and subversion in Singapore and thus harm our national security, ” Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said.

The “To Singapore, with Love” full film can be watched here:

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