Playing house

28 May 2015 | ResearchCommunity
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Film still from 03-FLATS: Director Lei Yuan Bin, concept Dr Lilian Chee

A recent film titled 03-FLATS, conceptualised by Assistant Professor Lilian Chee from the NUS Department of Architecture, has won widespread acclaim for its intimate and thought-provoking counter-narrative of public housing in Singapore. It recently garnered best ASEAN documentary at the 5th Salaya International Documentary Film Festival in Thailand.

03-FLATS documents the everyday lives of three single women ' Madam Sim Boon Ngoh, Ms Amy Tashiana and Ms Tang Ling Nah ' who live alone in their Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats. The HDB is Singapore's public housing authority which plans and develops public housing towns. Public housing represents a dominant feature in the everyday lives of most Singaporeans, accommodating almost 85 per cent of the population.

The film, made as part of a larger research project headed by Asst Prof Chee, explores the issues of domesticity, identity and public policy. It was produced in collaboration with NUS alumni Mr Lei Yuan Bin, as Director, and Mr Tan Bee Thiam, both founding members of Singaporean film collective 13 Little Pictures.

"I am interested in how the complexities of a domestic environment may be reflected visually without oversimplifying its nuances and affective character…the use of film as a research medium is also gaining recognition in many leading universities worldwide, explained Asst Prof Chee.

Filmed over nine months, 03-FLATS follows the personal lives of Madam Sim, a first generation public housing owner who has lived in her Queenstown flat since 1973; Ms Tashiana, a fashion consultant and ex-model who incorporated her theatrical flair into her flat's décor and lives with her cat Dizzy in Eunos; and Ms Tang, an award-winning artist who bought her flat in Sembawang after years of renting, and turned it into her own studio space. The women, each at different stages of their lives, are seen going about their daily routines ' cooking, sewing, watching television ' highlighting different aspects of living alone in a HDB flat.

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Film still from 03-FLATS: Director Lei Yuan Bin, concept Dr Lilian Chee

Amid this backdrop, 03-FLATS shows the struggles of three single women carving out a space for their individual identities within the domestic realm, transforming mass housing into home. As the camera moves between the distinctively lived interiors and the ordered public spaces outside, it reveals a form of resistance enacted through small individual changes, which turns a highly regulated, banal and repetitive landscape into one that is intimate, unpredictable and complex.

The film first premiered in October 2014 at the Busan International Film Festival and was chosen for the 6th Seoul International Architecture Film Festival. It later played to a sold-out audience at the Singapore International Film Festival in December 2014. An exhibition curated around responses to the film will open this September at the NUS Museum.