Documentary on Sungei Road makes it to Sheffield festival
Student's documentary featuring soon-to-be-demolished Thieves' Market is nominated for international film festival award
A student's documentary on the market at Sungei Road has been selected for an international film festival in the UK.
Presenters of the Sheffield International Documentary Festival picked student director Shintaro Tay's film, which will be publicly screened at the festival for the first time on June 10 at 1pm, UK time.
Saving Sungei is about the impending demolition of the Sungei Road flea market, and one man's mission to prevent that from happening. (See report above.)
The flea market, which started in the mid 1930s, is made up of close to 200 stalls. Street peddlers, mostly aged 60 and above, sell second-hand items there at cheap prices.
The road will soon be demolished to make way for the new Sungei Road MRT station, which is expected to be completed in 2017.
For Mr Tay, 20, Saving Sungei was a work of love.
As a child, his father often took him on walks along Sungei Road to scour the stalls for treasures such as antiques, old photographs and medals.
He found them fascinating and still walks that familiar stretch whenever he is free.
Up to today, he still buys stamps and old bus stubs from the vendors.
In 2012, he started to take his camera with him to Sungei Road as his love for the people and place grew.
It was the experience of walking along Sungei Road and Mr Tay's firm belief in heritage preservation that made him determined to document the place before it was demolished.
"I hated to see Sungei Road go because there are so many stories to tell and so much heritage in it," he said.
So when it was time to come up with a final project to complete his diploma at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film & Media Studies, it was a topic he naturally gravitated to.
Not that it was easy.
He was chased out of the market multiple times, he admitted with a laugh.
Mr Tay felt that filming the elderly in their natural state would get the best shots.
"We wanted the documentary to be as real as possible and people are not as natural when they know you are filming them," explained Mr Tay.
Some aunties and uncles were not comfortable with that and confronted the crew, who often had to film discreetly.
"If they are fierce, we just run. If they seem nice, we explain to them that we're just trying to remember Sungei Road through film," he said, referring to the market's traders.
He and his team of four other students poured their best efforts into the project for four months.
It was almost a futile exercise because they could not find Mr Koh Eng Khoon, the president of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, who was central to the efforts to save the Thieves' Market, as the area is more colloquially known as.
"I did not have his mobile phone number or e-mail so we were at a loss on how to contact him," said Mr Tay.
Mr Koh, 70, also owns a stall selling electrical appliances.It was by pure luck that Mr Tay found Mr Koh, whom he hoped could be the main character of his documentary.
"I really respect Mr Koh. Despite his age, he has been doing all he can to maintain the status quo for the traders here," said Mr Tay.
The crew was on a trip to check out Sungei Road when they bumped into Mr Koh at his stall.
"When he introduced himself, I kept thinking, 'Is this really the guy we're looking for?'" Mr Tay said.
Over a period of three days, the crew filmed Mr Koh's daily routine of peddling old electrical appliances and interacting with other street peddlers.
The film also features Mr Koh's fight for Sungei Road to stay, which has included writing letters to the government urging the authorities to preserve the Thieves' Market.
Said Mr Koh, in an interview at his stall last Friday: "Selling old things at Sungei Road is the livelihood of all these old people. Some of them can't even walk properly. What's going to happen to them when they can no longer sell here?"
Mr Tay spent four months on the project, which included the time taken for conceptualising, filming and editing. The result is a 14-minute film.
His documentary production course lecturer, Mr Craig McTurk, submitted the film to the Sheffield International Documentary Festival and it was nominated for the Student Documentary Award .
His documentary is up against many other documentaries from "top UK film schools like the National Film and Television School (in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire)", said Mr Tay.
When asked how confident he was of winning, Mr Tay said that he was just very thankful that the film is in the running for the award.
"I have no expectations because all the time, I only saw it as a story to be told.
"When foreigners hear 'Singapore', they always think of the tall buildings. I wanted to present a completely different perspective," said Mr Tay.
When foreigners hear 'Singapore', they always think of the tall buildings. I wanted to present a completely different perspective.
- Student documentary director Shintaro Tay, 20
ABOUT THE FILM
The 14 minute film, Saving Sungei, was directed by Mr Shintaro Tay. The production team consists of:
Editor: Miss Hannah Chua, 19. Director of Photography: Mr Tan Guan Hao, 19. Producer: Miss Sharlyn Chin, 19. Sound: Mr Foo Ee Ter, 19.
Saving Sungei takes a glimpse into Mr Koh Eng Khoon's life as a street peddler and as an advocate of preserving Sungei Road.
Mr Koh, 70, is the president of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods . He also has a stall in Sungei Road selling old electrical appliances.
As the president, he is in charge of the 200 stalls there and makes sure that everything is in order, he said.
Sungei Road, or also known as thieves' market, is a flea market in Singapore where street peddlers sell second-hand goods and old memorabilia.
It will soon be closed to make space for the new Sungei Road MRT station, which is expected to be completed in 2017.
The documentary starts off with archival footage from the National Heritage Board and other photographs taken by Mr Tay during his walks along Sungei Road.
It also documents Mr Koh's efforts to help the elders at Sungei Road continue to have an area to sell their goods.
"A majority of these elders are poor and not here by choice," said Mr Koh.
"If I don't fight for their livelihood, who will?"