Singapore, Asia’s richest country, is a dream destination for the people of Bangladesh. Not only can they find work there but also, supposedly, greater legal security. But the reality for migrant workers is very different, and many companies are quick to shirk their responsibilities as soon as problems arise.
Director Lei Yuan Bin accompanies Feroz and TWC2 manager Ethan with his camera from Singapore to Bangladesh, revealing in striking images two extremes of wealth and poverty.
Hello Lei it's great to talk with you, how have things going?
Congratulations on I Dream of Singapore being selected for the Panorama Dokumente at Berlinale, what does it mean to you to have this film at the festival?
Thank you! It means a lot to me to have my International Premiere at the Berlinale Panorama. Truly a dream come true!
Does having I Dream of Singapore at the 70th Berlinale add any extra pressure on you?
Yes, but pressure is good. It makes me feel alive.
Did you know much about the migrant workers from Bangladesh before you started making I Dream of Singapore?
I was aware of the majority of construction workers in Singapore being from Bangladesh, and the tireless work of the migrants-right NGO Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). But through the 2-year process of making this documentary, I learned more about migrant issues first hand. Many more stories and incidents happened outside the frame of the camera. After making this film, I have much more empathy our migrant friends, and the social-work community that helps them.
When did you first meet Feroz?
I first met Feroz in the TWC2 shelter, "Dayspace". He was assigned as one of the caretakers of Dayspace as he was staying there for a long time while waiting for his injury-compensation claim to be resolved. It's been more than 2 years now and it still hasn't been settled.
"I immediately knew I wanted to explore transient labour flows as it's an issue that's close to my heart."
What was it about his story and experience that interested you?
Feroz has a very easy going personality. We became friends quickly. Despite being so young, he had already experienced a near-death experience and having worked for quite a long time in a faraway place to support his whole family and village. He has great resilience and perseverance in life, and I wanted to honour this courage through I DREAM OF SINGAPORE.
Did you have any apprehensions about following Feroz & Ethan in order to share their story?
I always took care to be respectful of Feroz and Ethan’s stories and sensitivities, and not to dramatise their lives or exploit their persons.
Can you tell me a little bit about I Dream of Singapore, how did this film come about?
In 2017, executive producer Glen GOEI approached me with the idea to make a series spotlighting marginalised voices in Singapore and Southeast Asia, and the community who helps them. I immediately knew I wanted to explore transient labour flows as it's an issue that's close to my heart. I'm currently shooting (as cinematographer) the second and third part of the series, which you can read a bit more about here.
What was the most challenging part of making this film?
Anticipating the events that might have unfolded in Feroz’s life. I guess this is reflective of the uncertain nature of Feroz’s and many migrants' lives in Singapore.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes but I myself find my passion for filmmaking mysterious. It demands so much mentally and physically, and yet the process of finishing every film enriches me more beyond my expectations. It’s like an addiction.
What is it about documentary filmmaking that interests you so much as a filmmaker?
Real life stories unfold before my eyes during the making of a documentary. Documentaries are almost always as emotionally moving as, if not more powerful than, the greatest fiction films.
How much has your style and approach changed since your debut film?
I don’t think I have a fixed style but I believe my technical abilities has become even more integrated with my directorial vision. I DREAM OF SINGAPORE is my fourth film, and second documentary: leiyuanbin.com
What has been the best advice you have been given?
The best advice I have received is from cinematographer Christopher DOYLE, who I worked with on the fiction film I co-directed, FUNDAMENTALLY HAPPY. He roughly said: Live your life first before making films; fall out of love, lose your passport and get lost when traveling.
What advice would you offer fellow filmmaker?
Life comes first and films second.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from I Dream of Singapore?
I hope people will immerse themselves into the everyday realities of migrant lives, and realise that our hopes and dreams are common. I hope to evoke more empathy for transient workers in their very special situations.