INTERVIEW: Factory (Super)Women
The Future of Our Pasts Festival (TFOOPFest), held in support of the Singapore Bicentennial, launched last Saturday on 16 March and will last until 17 March. With a focus on the micro-narratives of Singapore’s history, TFOOPFest turns stories of our past into art and brings them to life. Featuring projects by students from various tertiary institutions, each narrative aims to develop a sense of belonging and identity through shared history.
Pang Wei Han, one of the filmmakers behind the documentary Factory (Super)Women, explains to us what the film means to him and how the journey of making it has been. Inspired by the experiences of his mother and grandmother, Pang set out on a mission to gather similar stories of factory workers and uncover their contributions towards Singapore’s economic success.
As millennials, most of us are (blissfully) unaware of the hardship that our forefathers had to go through while Singapore fought for independence and struggled to thrive in the past. Having an eye-opening film like Factory (Super)Women indeed raises awareness about these pioneers for the youths of today.
Read on to learn more about the intricate process of making the documentary.
Factory (Super)Women was inspired by your grandmother and mother’s experiences as factory workers. What was it about their stories that made you want to tell them?
I was really deeply inspired when they shared with me about their experiences there because I learnt that their time at the factory has really shaped the values I hold today and who I am. My mother shares a lot about these two Malay lead girls who she met when she worked in KDK, an electronics manufacturing factory. These two lead girls were kind, generous and nurturing, and would always cook food to share.
As a result of that experience, my mother shares that she has tried, in all her adult life, to pay this forward and to treat others with the same spirit of kindness and generosity. This spirit is something that I have learnt from her, again and again, throughout my life.
For my grandmother, she migrated from Pengarang, Malaysia to Singapore to work in a textile factory. After meeting my grandfather, they started a small garment family business, using the skills she learnt at the factory. In this family business, my grandma and grandaunts all worked there together, and it is a period of familial warmth and support. In telling that story, my grandma reminds me on the importance of family.
What would you like the Singapore audience to take away from the film, particularly as the film revolves around some of its pioneers?
I hope for two things. First, I hope that the Singapore audience can take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the struggles, efforts and achievements of the factory women who have contributed so significantly to our country’s economy. This means really understanding the nuances of the different experiences in factories, and of the embedded gender dynamics in these spaces.
Second, I hope that Singaporean youths, especially of my generation, can take this moment to pause and reflect deeply about how our parents’ work experiences (before they became our parents) have shaped our lives and to acknowledge their efforts and their impact.
What was the hardest part of putting the film together?
This documentary film and exhibition experience have been very challenging because I really do not have a background in these things! I am a history major, and so the things I do best are archival research and oral history interviews. As such, this project required many other friends/schoolmates to believe in this cause and to help out!
I think the other part that we struggled with was in thinking about how to express these women’s truths, in their varied forms, within our documentary and exhibition. We interviewed 32 women in this project and came to learn about so many different experiences; some were happy, fun and uplifting while others revealed much pain, sacrifice and loss. We had to grapple with portraying all these diverse experiences into a meaningful and truthful narrative that the audience can engage reflectively with.
What other stories or projects are you aiming to show?
Xin Run (who is the other core researcher on the team) and I are both fourth year students working on our thesis in Yale-NUS College. My thesis analyses Cambodian Buddhist murals while Xin Run (an environmental studies major) looks at food security and community gardens. We are not sure what other stories we will tell in the future, but with luck, we will be able to continue learning about our own histories and to continue empowering Singaporeans to explore different ways to remember, reflect and appreciate Singapore’s past.
We’d like to thank Pang Wei Han for his sincere and detailed answers on Factory (Super)Women. We are also excited to attend the screening ourselves this weekend, particularly after learning the backstory behind the documentary.
Catch Factory (Super)Women at the TFOOP Festival on 23 & 24 February at various timings. Tickets are free with registration. Click here for more information.
Image credit: The Future of Our Pasts