Secret Singapore: Oldham Theatre - A Venue Dedicated To Asian Cinema
STORY: Farhan Shafie
03 November 2021
What's old is new. And what's new is Oldham. Oldham Theatre, to be specific.
The indie theatre - which is sandwiched between the Singapore Philatelic Museum and the Registry of Marriages at Canning Rise - opened in 2019, and is dedicated to screening lesser-known films by Asian auteurs.
Nestled in the confines of the refurbished National Archives of Singapore building, the theatre is an enclave for cinephiles and casual movie goers alike, but for most Singaporeans, it has remained an "I didn't know this place existed!" spot.
This 134-seater hall is equipped with Dolby Atmos surround sound, 4K digital and 35mm-film format projection capabilities - perfect for screenings of beautifully preserved older films that might not have had digital formats previously, but can now be presented thanks to this and the passionate folks at the Asian Film Archive (AFA).
We spoke with AFA spokesperson Natalie Ng to learn about the theatre's architectural history and what exciting films you can expect in the coming months.
Tell us a bit about the venue. And who is the "Oldham" that this theatre was named after?
The conserved Art Deco building was previously the school premises of Anglo-Chinese Primary School. The name Oldham is traced to Reverend William Fitzjames Oldham, bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaya who founded the Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore in 1886.
The school hall was named after Bishop Oldham as a mark of respect to him. In 1995, NAS took over the use of the building and retained the name Oldham for its sole lecture hall. The current 134-seater Oldham Theatre became operational as a modern cinema in April 2019.
What exciting films or current festivals can we look forward to at Oldham Theatre?
The Asian Film Archive (AFA) has been presenting regular film programmes at the theatre since May 2019. Under its umbrella theme of "Explore Asian Cinema", AFA has screened Asian contemporary films, restored classics, organised programmes on specific interests and academic research, and exchanges with other film archives.
The latest programme is "Whose House is This?: New Cinema of Central Asia", which was first introduced as a fully online programme when cinemas in Singapore were closed in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The programme is now being exclusively presented theatrically at Oldham Theatre with an expanded line-up, and aims to spotlight a diverse range of films from Central Asia. The programme will run from 22 Oct to 21 Nov 2021.
One of AFA's regular programmes is "Releases", which is dedicated to screening the most promising of contemporary Asian cinema. Vietnamese writer-director Le Bao's award-winning debut film "Taste"(2021) will be making its Southeast Asian premiere at Oldham Theatre from 23 Oct to 5 Nov 2021.
There are two upcoming films that will be part of another of AFA's regular programmes, "Restored". This series showcases Asian films that have been preserved and restored by different institutions around the world, allowing the classic films to be appreciated by new generations of audiences.
From 29 Oct to 21 Nov 2021, AFA will be screening "Floating Life" (1996), in partnership with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NSFA). "Floating Life" is a key work of Hong Kong Second Wave director Clara Law that examines the Chinese diasporic experience.