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Gerald Sim

December 16, 2016

This week our MA student Adrian Alarilla recaps Gerald Sim’s lecture on Singapore’s cartographic cinema last week.

Gerald Sim (Photo by Rod Searcey)

Film Studies professor Gerald Sim presented his paper, “Singapore’s Cartographic Cinema,” on December 8, 2016 at the UW Seattle campus. His insightful and enlightening talk was well-attended by students from the Southeast Asia Center, who co-presented it, as well as those from other departments.

Sim based his thesis of postcolonial aesthetics on Singapore’s unique relationship with its colonial history as well as the relative insignificance of its land area. Because the tiny island nation is so small, it often appears on maps as just a “little red dot.” Singapore’s insecurity of its size has led to the development of a unique spatial imagination, wherein the little space it has is often politicized, and it sees its history and culture in terms of space. Therefore, even in Singaporean cinema, there is often a desire, whether conscious or unconscious in the part of the filmmakers, to map out its spaces, hence the term “Singapore’s Cartographic Cinema.”

Sim identified three types of mapping discourses in Singapore’s Cartographic Cinema: 1) Aerial maps (the desire to look at Singapore from the top, as you look at a map), 2) Affective, or emotional, maps (wherein different emotions are linked to different places), and 3) Colonial atlases (wherein different shots, when pieced together, orients the viewer to the colonial center of Singapore). To support his argument, Sim presented clips from different cinematic examples, such as Old Places by Royston Tan, Keluar Baris by Boo Junfeng,  All Lines Flow Out by Charles Lim, Perth by Djinn, and Seniman Bujang Lapok by P. Ramlee. Sim also heavily cited works from prolific filmmaker Tan Pin Pin. All of them, in varying degrees, do display a unique awareness of space, as well as the need to map it. A really interesting example is Tan Pin Pin’s Singapore Ga Ga, an episodic documentary about the soundscape of Singapore. Each episode often establishes its location in relation to an MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) station, so that as you keep watching the film, you visit different stations, and you map out not only Singapore, but also the internal relationships that circulate within Singapore.

Some of these films are available online, so check them out if you’re interested in Singaporean Cinema! Other interesting online resources are:

  • exhibit in Singapore’s National Library Building
  • Singapore Film Locations, a website that maps out the locations used in noteworthy Singaporean films