What it takes to keep an independent cinema alive in Singapore

The Golden Mile hotspot has come a very long way since the initial days of its Indiegogo campaign, thanks in large part to the kamikaze efforts of its manager Sharon Tan who first dreamed up the space with her sister, Karen. Here, she tells us what it’s like running the cinema, what her favorite movies are, and what the most successful movie at The Projector has been—it’s a surprise.

Growing up was slow yet fast. I definitely didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. A lot of time was spent asleep. I remember napping a lot after school in the warm, breezy afternoons.

My favorite movies as a kid were Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. My mum bought us the VHS tape—maybe she really liked Julie Andrews.

Time has whizzed by at The Projector. I recently revisited some of my posts on our Indiegogo crowdfunding page in 2014 updating our funders on our progress, and it seems like an eternity ago. I can still recall that strange mix of excited optimism and uncertainty—or perhaps fear—that I woke up to every day when it all began.

We are still using a makeshift trolley as our box office. It was put together a year ago by our cleaner using some planks of wood that our cinema’s projectors were delivered in, so it has some special significance for us.

[I didn’t think] that my mum would watch practically every film we screen.

The Singapore film scene is pretty vibrant: there are lots of film festivals, but you do need to make an effort to keep track of what’s going on. I used to diligently check out NMS, SAM and the Substation’s film program, but now that I’m running a cinema, I have no time—the irony!

The Projector first started when my sister and I saw the space and fell in love with it. A friend, Gavin, who is our curator and film buyer also got excited by the prospect. People don’t understand why we chose Golden Mile Tower to set up a cinema. Apparently it is “not a good location”.

One of our main motivations was to make Golden Theatre relevant to people again like how it was in the past—as a movie theater at its core, but now with the added flexibility of accommodating other creative, unconventional uses.

Having lived in London, we missed the alternative films and film-going experience that independent cinemas there offered, where people can take their time to enjoy an evening at the cinema and with friends at the foyer bar, instead of being trapped in another generic shopping mall.

We also enjoy organizing bad movie bingo, live music scored to silent films, cult movie dress-up nights and shout-a-longs. We want to show that a cinema space can be so much more!

Local film-goers are a fairly curious sort, but don’t particularly like taking risks and try out a new genre of film, especially if it doesn’t have accolades or recognizable actors.

Having said that, Taxi Tehran, of an atypical film genre—not really a documentary nor a conventional narrative—has been our bestselling film for more than half a year now. So maybe I should eat my words!

The film I’ve seen more times than any other is Pina—I love watching dance. The music, movement, urban settings and cinematography came together so beautifully in this film. It was also especially moving and heartfelt because of the dancers’ personal relationships with Pina Bausch. I never get tired of re-watching it.

Waking Life is my favorite Richard Linklater film. It’s a great film to watch while lying in bed, letting the drifting monologues and music by the Tosca Tango Orchestra wash over you.

What keeps me up at night? A damn good movie! Paying rent and bills! Working on accounts and admin! Such a pain!

Our film programming is mostly about affordability. People—ourselves included—are always surprised at how expensive it can be to obtain the rights to screen a film. Another thing is taking risks—sometimes we wonder if people will come watch what we think is good.

And sometimes we scratch our heads trying to understand how censorship works in Singapore.

I’m also happy to share that domestic workers now enjoy concession prices on tickets all week at The Projector. Help us spread the word and share the love of film!

If I weren’t at The Projector, I would be taking a long stroll with a quiet state of mind and be completely uncontactable. If we’re talking about other work interests, I would be delving into something related to urban studies.

A day in my life consists of being generally being responsive to a barrage of emails and texts that never seem to end. I work at the box office selling tickets at least twice a week—a great reduction from what used to be every day when we started out.

Mrs Pho [is my go-to] lunch spot in the area. Everything is delicious. Sometimes I indulge in the plump cockles with lardy bits! I also like Crimson Cow in the basement of Golden Mile Tower—mac and cheese, homely spag bol, mega-sized chicken burger and other western comfort food at good prices and with friendly owners.