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Seletar Airbase — Singapore’s Secret Garden

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Produced, written and directed by Li Xiuqi
Running time: 10 minutes
Released in 2007

In a nutshell
A glimpse of the tightly-knit community living at Seletar Airbase, before the government takes back the land.

Seletar AirbaseSeletar Airbase — Singapore’s Secret Garden is unabashedly a film with an agenda. The Singapore government announced in 2006 that it would turn the area into an aerospace hub by 2015, which could not be a fate more alien for a neighbourhood as warm and welcoming as this film makes Seletar Airbase out to be.

In this freshman documentary effort by Li Xiuqi, there’s everything to paint the place as a lush suburban refuge, from sweeping shots of abundant greenery — now this is what a real Garden City ought to look like — to heartfelt soundbites from residents of the area.

If anything, perhaps Seletar Airbase is a tad too sentimental. Over and over again, we see children romping all over luxuriant lawns, catching fish in a small creek or snacking on rambutans plucked fresh off a tree. Adult residents talk about how everyone knows their neighbours and they can leave their doors open all day. Modern-day kampong life doesn’t get more idyllic than this, does it?

Seletar AirbasePerhaps yielding to sentimentality is inevitable when dealing with a place that’s threatened by so relentless a sword of Damocles. The film’s leisurely pace is not one beat out of step with the laidback lifestyle it depicts. But that also lacks the urgency that one expects for a film that’s crusading for the conservation of this neighbourhood. At some point in the latter half of the film, the Airbase lifestyle already feels like a relic of old Singapore — something we can glimpse through this documentary but will never experience for ourselves.

The pockets of life shown in Seletar Airbase aren’t your typical view of Singapore. But beyond nostalgia and pastoral yearning, let’s hope it can inspire people to appreciate that there ought to be room enough on our little island for these different ways of life to coexist.

Seletar Airbase — Singapore’s Secret Garden will be screened at the 2nd Singapore Indie Doc Fest on Tuesday, March 6 at 7:30 pm at the Substation Theatre, and at the next Sinema screening on Tuesday, March 13 at 7:30 pm at Timbré.

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