In 2015, Singapore celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence from Malaysia. Festivities were had, speeches made, and after it was all said and done, Singapore went back to normal. But in this small moment in space and time, a documentary crew took this opportunity to examine the hearts and minds of the citizens of Singapore, stripped away from the fist-pumping nationalistic festivities that were happening around them. What they found was the beauty and diversity of human perspective. Directors Joant Úbeda and Chew Chia Shao Min have distilled the most beautiful and diverse of those viewpoints into Sementara.
The film is reminiscent of kaleidoscopic experimental documentaries like Baraka or Samsara. Those movies focused on style over substance and exoticized the people they were filming, while this production skillfully avoids such pitfalls by giving ample time to show both the visually engaging aspects of the country and the personal perspectives of a diverse range of Singaporeans. The motion picture never feels like a vacation travelogue for Singapore. Rather, I was fully immersed in the many stories told and shown of people with wildly different histories.
Sementara showed Chinese and Indian immigrants struggling to make Singapore their home and the Singaporean’s who discriminated against them, seeing these people as invaders. It spotlights the vast generational gap between those who support the LGBTQIA+ community and those who feel they are dangerous. It also looks at religious diversity, with followers of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam coexisting and clashing with one another. In doing so, the film asks an important question: who really is a Singaporean?
“…examine[s] the hearts and minds of the citizens of Singapore…”
Nationalism is a lot more pronounced in a country like Singapore, given its short history as an independent nation and the mass immigration and emigration the country is currently experiencing. Everyone has their own perspective on what it means to be Singaporean. Still, there’s a pervasive belief that recent immigrants, even those that became legal citizens, were not ‘real’ Singaporeans. Sementara highlights that this is an issue that anyone from anywhere can connect with, given that, in this age of globalization, nationalism has an increasingly tenuous grasp on culture.
The movie’s title means ‘transient’ in Malay. This transience comes out in every aspect of the film, from the transient nature of the documentary crew traveling across the city to the immigrants in the city brought in to work construction jobs to the young adults constantly thinking about their future. The personal interviews and the many shots of people walking to work show the people of Singapore in a constant state of flux. However, despite the content being exceptionally powerful, the pacing did leave much to be desired. The repetition of shots and the choices regarding how much time was given to the various interviews almost always left me wanting either more or less from each section.
In showing such a diversity of perspective, Sementara successfully captures a moment of transition for the country of Singapore. People, culture, and places all are transitioning to some degree. In that manner, the filmmakers capture the essence of life itself, in all of its messiness, confusion, and beauty.
"…successfully captures a moment of transition for the country..."