Migrant workers living in cramped dormitories have dominated headlines in Singapore as the country battles Covid-19. But even before the pandemic began, Glen Goei had been troubled by their plight — more than that, the local filmmaker wanted to know what the workers actually think.
That thought started brewing during his daily walks to the office of Wild Rice — where he’s been co-artistic director since 2002 — in Little India, where he’d watch migrant workers file through the streets. “It struck me that I knew so little about them and their lives,” he says.
So he commissioned I Dream of Singapore, which premiered last November at the Singapore International Film Festival. Directed by Lei Yuan Bin, the heartfelt documentary humanises the migrant labour behind much of the country’s infrastructure, attaching names, faces, thoughts and dreams to the group.
“Their hopes and their dreams,” as Goei notes, “I realised they’re just like yours and mine.” Despite renewed attention on migrant worker rights in Singapore, he laments that change remains “much too slow”.
“It took a pandemic like this — which has affected the larger community — to bring the plight of migrant workers to the fore. If it didn’t affect the larger community, it would’ve just been brushed aside.”
I Dream of Singapore is the first of Goei’s multi-volume documentary series on overlooked communities in Singapore. His next film features The T Project, the only social service organisation assisting the transgender community here. It is slated for release by end 2021.
“People should know that these communities should exist. There are so many stories out there in Singapore, not just the one grand narrative that we’re constantly fed. Stories like these give people a better understanding of marginalised groups and perhaps allow them to empathise. And the world is richer for having more stories told from as many perspectives.”
This story first appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of A Magazine.