The closing down of the KTM railway gave this filmmaker material for his first short film.
Contributed By Dawn Seow
Images of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway, scenery the train used to pass daily, its station and the lives surrounding it, their personal encounters and their regrets at its closing. All these elements formed a 11-minute documentary that brought its creator one step closer to realizing his dream as a filmmaker.
Titled Reminiscence, this documentary revisits the KTM railway, one of the oldest forms of transport connecting Singapore and Malaysia, and presents its significance to the people who used the railway as well as those who owned shops at the station.
Media engineer, Seth Gan, 28, completed the film in November for a project at media school SAE Institute Singapore where he was pursuing his diploma in digital film production. Little did he know it would eventually become one of six short films featured in First Take in September.
Organized by The Substation, a local contemporary arts center, under its film program Moving Images, First Take screens new local short films followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers every first Monday of the month. It serves as a platform for new filmmakers to showcase their work and to interact with others with similar passions.
Train Of Thought
“Last year, when I was deciding on a topic for the documentary film I had to do for an assignment in school, a friend who was attending another institute had a similar project. She came up with the idea of doing a documentary on the KTM railway—the station at Tanjong Pagar was closing down. I had lived in Malaysia for a while when I was young, and I used to take the KTM rail. Doing a documentary on the railway would give me an opportunity to take the rail again before it closed so I decided to do it,” says Gan.
The pre-production proved the most challenging part of his one-month effort. “I spent a lot of time doing research because when I first embarked on this project, I only knew that the KTM station at Tanjong Pagar was closing. I didn’t know who to speak to or where to start.”
The concept Gan had in mind, which was to capture the memories of people whose lives were closely linked to the KTM railway, led him to the KTM fan club, which he discovered on the Internet.
“The fan club was started by a Malaysian but it has members who reside in Singapore. Thankfully, a few of them replied to my email asking for help and they gathered a few others who were more than happy to share their memories of the railway. The interviewees you see in the film came from this group of people.”
Some of the members in the fan club were former staff of the KTM railway; some worked at the Tanjong Pagar station, and others were simply commuters who were fans of train travel. Gan used their stories to form the skeleton of the documentary, and dressed it up with footage he later filmed.
He notes that it is the memories of these fans that loved KTM that tug at the hearts of the audience. “I was really blessed to find these people who really had a passion for the railway. They spoke from their hearts during the interviews, and that’s why the video turned out to be such a heartfelt documentary.”
Gan admits the making of this film changed him too. “I used to only see the KTM rail as an old way of transport that was being phased out. Making this documentary made me realize that there are people who grew up together around the railway station—they worked and played there and it was very much part of their lives. This really changed my perspective of the KTM railway.”
As he researched and interviewed, history unfolded before him. “Before I interviewed these people, I never knew there was a Bukit Timah station, which existed at the same time as the Tanjong Pagar station but was closed down earlier. I spoke with the stall owners at Tanjong Pagar station and found out that their families had been operating there for the past 70 years, passing down the business from one generation to the next.”
While Reminiscence was his first attempt at a documentary, Gan is a big fan of this genre. “I have always been interested in movies and other types of film, but I love documentaries the most,” he says, adding that it was in 2000 when he was first exposed to videography that he became interested in film-making.
In 2003, he joined the TV ministry in City Harvest Church. It was here that he first learned the ropes and discovered the world of events and media production. He decided to make a career of his interest, and joined production house Xtron Productions in 2007.
As a media engineer in Xtron, Gan currently handles the technical aspects of media production, as well as some editing. His first diploma in engineering set the foundation for him “because in media, half of it is about equipment, electronics and electrical stuff.”
Having attained his second diploma, in digital film production, Gan is now doing his Bachelor of Arts in digital film-making at the same school. Thanks to this first film, the young creator is now known for his ability to create works that touch the hearts of his viewers, and for his passion to reach a mass audience.
Now, Gan has set his sights on bigger roles in film-making: “I have always wanted to direct or to be a director of photography because I like images and to create them. I hope to be exposed to it.”