On the coast of Michigan, USA, an ecologically-significant piece of duneland is being threatened by development. The Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, led by Tracey Shafroth and David Swan, is lobbying against the invasive project that would allow developers to dredge a 1400ft-long marina to build waterfront mansions. In addition to environmental degradation it would cause, the project also risks historical erasure; it will sit directly on top of where the town of Singapore once stood.
Descendants of the lost town, Travis and Sandra Randolph tell of Singapore, Michigan, a thriving port city in the mid-1800s, swallowed up by sand due to erosion from excessive lumbering activity. Just as quickly as Singapore disappeared under sand, its namesake in the Far East emerged from it — where there was once only water and marsh, now boasts land and concrete blocks in the sky.
Grandma Phang moved from the kampung to a government-built house on reclaimed land in the 1960s. Around her, the country’s skyline evolved beyond recognition. Today, nature again threatens to submerge Singapore, this time with rising sea levels. Grandma Phang, once loyal to the belief that rapid development is a necessity for her country’s growth, now worries about its impact on her grandchildren’s futures.
Sandcastles is a lyrical dialogue between two places named Singapore, one in Southeast Asia and one buried in Michigan, USA. Interweaving perspectives of various characters,the film depicts the ephemeral nature of human edifices built on and destroyed by nothing more than sand.