As Singapore prepares to celebrate its 40th birthday, award-winning director Tan Pin Pin's latest documentary portrays a bitter-sweet image of Singaporeans' complex relationship with their homeland. Singapore Gaga is a whimsical portrait of the Lion City through the sounds that emanate from everyday situations. From the train announcements ('eating or drinking is not allowed on the stations and trains') to cheers at an Arabic school, news bulletins in Chinese that have become almost forgotten, and a performance by Singaporean avant-garde toy pianist Margaret Leng Tan, the director has stitched together cinema verite vignettes to give viewers an idea of what it means to be Singaporean. As a shot in the arm for Asian documentary makers - and as an indication that the rest of the world has an interest in documentaries from the region - Singapore Gaga has been selected to screen at the 35th International Film Festival Rotterdam, to he held from January 25 to February 5 next year. It will also be shown in Berlin in autumn. Tan says the film was inspired by a neighbour who regularly sings to his wife, an Alzheimer's sufferer, to calm her and try to jog her memory. 'One of the songs caught my attention,' she says. 'It was the song they sang when they were communists fighting the Japanese in the Malayan jungles. This song, sung with the right posture and heft, gave me a sense of how we became who we are today. It rendered real the fact of wars fought and won. It also gave me a sense of how powerful sounds and music are in defining oneself or a community.' Shot with a budget of only S$100,000 (about $465,000) and a crew of three, Singapore Gaga features several Singaporeans on the margins of society, from the wheelchair-bound tissue seller, who sings religious hymns to keep her spirits up, to an old busker who performs in a train station but largely ignored by commuters. Tan has strived to lightly portray the multi-racial aspect of Singapore and how modernity has pushed older people to the sidelines. 'It's a film many Singaporeans will find resonance with,' she says. 'It's a Singapore they've always known about, but has never been featured on the screen. It's a uniquely Singapore document.' Over the years, Tan has won more than 20 awards and nominations for her documentaries, including a student academy award and two Asian television awards. Her focus is always on her homeland. From Moving House, about compulsory exhumation of gravesites, to Building Dreams, about Singapore's architectural history, she says she's 'really doing films for Singaporeans'. The island state's censorship rules have often made it difficult for filmmakers. Tan has been vocal in pushing local filmmakers' concerns about local censorship rules, especially after police questioned director Martyn See (one of the off-line editors of Singapore Gaga) after his film Singapore Rebel - which chronicles the civil disobedience of opposition activist Chee Soon Juan. Tan (on behalf of 11 other filmmakers) wrote an open letter in a local newspaper seeking clarification of the rules, which state that it's an offence to make, distribute or exhibit 'party political films'. Anyone convicted under the law faces two years in jail or a fine of up to S$100,000. 'If you have to say anything critical in Singapore, you have to say something without really saying it,' Tam says. 'It's a sort of shadow dance that I find myself sometimes treading.' And it's why she believes multi-layering is important. 'I find that making a documentary this way, when there are different levels in which you can approach it, is probably the way for me to continue making films in Singapore. Anything more explicit will probably invite too many questions.' So far, only one of Tam's documentaries, Lurve Me Not, has been banned (in 1999, because of explicit sex) - although Tam says she's still baffled by the decision because the film doesn't have any sex scenes. 'It's important that my films are seen,' she says. 'I don't want them to be banned. I don't want them just to be screened at festivals for audiences overseas. I live in Singapore. I love Singapore, and I want my films to be seen here. These films are made for Singapore.'