For many people, a school is more than just a building, it is their second home. Merged is a documentary that observes how individuals cope with Singapore’s most recent school merger exercise. In light of the announcement, Producer Matthew Chew wonders what really makes up a place. How do people cope with the loss and change of a building? Ultimately, it is the sense of ohana that keeps everyone going, as a family. Perhaps there is hope in our future if we stop looking to our past.
Read on to learn more about Merged.
What sparked the idea to make this documentary?
As Singapore’s biggest school merger and the first time that Junior Colleges (JCs) are being merged, we wondered about who this merger might impact.
The four of us — Ng Kai Yuan, Carine Tan, Cheah Wenqi and I — noticed the media reports and stories were often around the policy level. This drove us to look deeper and explore the perspectives of different stakeholders of these schools (from students to even custodians of the space).
We also co-founded OGS (Our Grandfather Story) and share a common interest in wanting to document authentic local stories like these.
Kai Yuan, the director, is a TPJC alumnus, and has a personal connection to the topic and the college. The project also sort of served as a catharsis for him to express and manage his feelings about the closure of his alma mater.
Why did you decide to make Merged interactive?
We hope the interactive medium can allow us to go deeper and to better tackle complexity in a way that is sometimes unachievable in a short film format. It also allowed us to better split content into different categories and mediums.
We feel that by incorporating the interactive elements, audiences can be more reflective and participatory in the documentary as well, which was important for us.
How did you decide which stories to tell (and there are a lot — from students, to teachers, and even the food stall vendors)?
The team pre-interviewed plenty of profiles at the start and we looked at the different perspectives (and thematic functions) that they each provide to make a holistic documentary.
For example, for the classroom hotspot, we featured art tutor Mary Choo. She focused on the background of Junior Colleges, while in the school hall the student councillors explore the reconciliation towards the issue. At the school field, the soccer team focuses on the consequence of population decline.
It was really about the spread of themes and differing perspectives that each of the profiles provided.
What was the biggest challenge in making Merged a reality?
Initially, we had some issues securing access and was met with several rejections from the merging JCs. All of us also had no experience in UI/UX so we had to get help and learn along the way.
What did you want the audience to take away or feel when watching (or interacting with) Merged?
We’d love for this interactive documentary to be a reflective moment for the audiences. This is also why there are several interactive elements where the viewer can contribute their own thoughts.
We also hope to inspire viewers to think about issues around Singapore’s disappearing landscapes, identity, and educational policies. The main takeaway is for the audience to think about what defines a space. Is it the building, the people or the experience?
Speaking of audience, was there a specific group of people you had in mind while making Merged — be it current students, alumni, or the general public — and why?
Everyone! This was a problem we struggled with, so we kept in mind several considerations that would allow us to reach out to different audience groups.
We’ve included optional explainers for audiences who are unfamiliar with Singapore’s education system. For example, we explain jargon like DSA (Direct School Admission) and the JC admission scoring system in short texts.
For the general public, we hope they can relate to the human stories first – you’ll find that even though the topic here is about school merger, Merged is still fundamentally various stories about the different stakeholders. This is something that we hope everyone finds relatable.
We’ve used quite generic terms when we designed the web. Even if you’re not from a merging JC or from Singapore’s education system, we think you might have places of your childhood or more that you have to say goodbye to.
We believe people affected by the merger (alumni/students) will definitely relate to this but we also felt that everyone will have that experience of losing a particular space. So we set out to make it more relatable for the general public.
What has the audience response been like so far?
So far, we have only circulated it with TPJC students in smaller circles, but the feedback has been positive. We will be sharing more about the project and also circulating the interactive documentary’s weblink in the coming weeks, as the TFOOPFest (as well as our launch event) go into full scale.
Merged will be launched on 15 and 16 March under the TFOOPFest. For more details, please visit their website.