There was something truly magical about the moment Scene UnSeen came on the big screen at the Esplanade Theatre last Sunday for the 32nd Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).
Lovingly stitched by Abdul Nizam and friends, Panuksmi Hardjowirogo and all the creatives and musicians in those interviews, Scene UnSeen was an emblem of the heart and the fortitude of a community that pushes on; an honest documentary that brought tears to my eyes from start to end.
There were parts of it that I connected with, even understood. As a former Baybeats Budding Writer, I knew exactly what it felt like to be part of something exciting, a movement, and to be at the forefront of it. To write stuff that mattered and to give a voice to the music and its community.
As an artist liaison officer, I have met bands like the ones in the film. I have taken care of them. Seen their tenacity and drive. The music industry is tough, the underground one, even more so. Most, if not all, of them have a full time job. They sometimes struggle to make it work, to find time for rehearsals, to rent a venue, to settle the logistical and administrative and legal aspects of it. But they try and try anyway. Again and again. It’s all about the passion.
For the moments that I did not necessarily connect with instantly, it nevertheless gave me an insight into a scene that has pretty much been unseen. And parts of it broke my heart. The fights and struggles, the laws that put a stopper to everything, and the unfortunate misconception and sometimes misogynist remarks that female musicians or all-female bands have to go through. These among many other things really showed the discrimination, disenfranchisement and the disillusionment posed by making art, in this case underground music, in a hypercapitalist and highly surveilled city such as Singapore.
Still, watching Scene UnSeen on Sunday night felt like finding a film canister somewhere, getting that Ilford roll developed and then seeing all these moments captured in time, as though they had all along been preserved in a time capsule.
I loved how the documentary also featured nostalgic cartoons, reels and images, which gave me some respite from the undulating current of emotions that I felt from watching it.
From the “gotong royong” atmosphere of the community that connected with each other through music, the friendship and bonds that formed, to the venues that made it possible such as Substation to Blackhole 212, and the zines like Big O that gave the community a voice, every aspect of this carefully crafted documentary spoke of freedom. It spoke of coming together just to make music. Of coming together just to express yourself, without judgement… Even if you identified yourself as, well…a potato…
Watching bands The Oddfellows and Obstacle Upsurge then play on stage, after this truly magical moment on screen, merely accentuated the night even more.
From the film creatives who put the documentary together, to the team at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) who planned it all, to the team at Esplanade who stitched the final pieces to screen and stage, everything was an amalgamation of what the documentary was trying to represent and what its community embodied.
The gotong-royong spirit! A truly poignant, inspiring and heartfelt documentary!
As we cheered through our masks, our spirit bonded through our love for the music and its community, it was safe to say that that night will be remembered for a long time to come.