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    Mar 14, 2016

    Movie club turns strangers into friends

    AT LEAST once a week, members from a local movie club gather to catch a show - whether it is an arthouse film, an animation flick or a Hollywood blockbuster.

    The Movie Club Singapore was founded in 2012 with the aim of helping expatriates find a circle of friends in a foreign land.

    But it unexpectedly drew Singaporeans as well - they now make up about 60 per cent of the membership.

    The club, which makes use of United States-based application and website Meetup, has 4,807 members to date, adding an average of 1,000 per year.

    Anyone can join for free, register for any of the listed upcoming events, make pre-payment via i-banking and show up at an agreed location.

    The club has five voluntary organisers or hosts who have developed their own styles.

    One of them is Jacq Wong, who is self-employed and in her mid-30s.

    She arranges meetups for animation films like Kung Fu Panda 3 and also often schedules weekday movies, which her fellow hosts joke can draw housewives and retirees.

    A meetup is set up with the premise that people who join do not mind meeting others, said Ms Wong.

    "You do get to meet people whom you don't normally meet in your normal life because all kinds of people show up."

    About 85 per cent of the members are working professionals in their 20s to 30s, with two-thirds of them regulars, said Christopher Loh, a 38-year-old financial consultant by day and organiser for Hollywood blockbuster film outings by night.

    He recalls the largest movie outing he hosted: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which drew more than 100 people, packed into one cinema hall.

    Such large gatherings require careful planning and the members are split into more manageable groups.

    The club usually holds its meetups at a restaurant and each host comes up with a unique way of identifying the group.

    For example, Mr Loh has his Meetup group wear clothes of a certain colour.

    They ask for individual billing and more than one restaurant is used if there is not enough space. Average attendances can range from 15 to 50 people for a popular film.

    After the show, they will go for food and often drinks.

    "Everybody loves movies," said Vishesh Kumar, the 31-year-old head organiser of the club, who works in information technology.

    Mr Loh added: "If the show is good, it's a bonus. And if the show is bad, we can talk about it afterwards."

    And friendships form quickly. Said Ms Wong: "People who are otherwise strangers become good friends, and even relationships form and couples even get married."

    Asked if people use the meetup as a dating avenue, the organisers exchanged knowing looks but Mr Vishesh stressed: "It's not for dating purposes."

    Instead, he said the club is for expats who do not know many people here, or Singaporeans whose work circles are small and do not have people to go out with.

    Melvin Tan, a 24-year-old undergraduate who joined the club early last year after searching online for social platforms, said he likes it as the organisers "have a social objective in mind, encouraging moviegoers to socialise before and after the movie".

    Geraldine Baird, an advanced practice nurse who came here from the United States 31/2 years ago, said she was looking for "a social group with common interests" when she joined the club two years ago.

    The 45-year-old said she has made about five good friends at the club, where there are "fun people to talk to".

    "It goes beyond the movie-watching," said Ms Baird.

    "Having no family to hang out here in Singapore, it does not feel as lonely any more," she added.

    The club welcomes new participants.

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