Palm Springs International Film Festival: Shirkers Review
By Crystal Harrell
Being the second Singapore-born filmmaker to win the World Cinema Directing Award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, Sandi Tan is making waves in the world of contemporary cinema with her documentary, Shirkers (2018). The film tells the true story of how Tan and a group of friends attempted to make the first Singapore road movie as teenagers in the summer of 1992: Shirkers. After completing it, her mentor took the 16 mm film with him, never to be seen again, until now.
The true artistic merit of this documentary originates from Tan’s innate ability to edit together segments of her past to create a captivating story. Hours of archived footage and hundreds of photographs, letters, and tape recordings paint a detailed picture of what the filming process was like during an important part of her life. Some of the people who were involved in the filming of Shirkers are not interviewed during the documentary, but their presence becomes more tangible by the way Tan showcases how they touched her life during her formative years as a young, independent filmmaker. The dream-like transitions and quirky storytelling juxtaposes the harsh reality of an artist who created something that would never get a chance to live.
Fortunately, Tan has been able to recover the lost footage of Shirkers after her ex-mentor’s wife contacted her to inform that he had kept the film in his possession until the day he died. While the footage is back in Tan’s possession, there is no sound—leaving only a silent time capsule of her lost labor of love. There is a silver lining presented in the idea that Tan is able to regain the youth that was stolen from her after years of trying to recover the missing pieces. It is an elegantly put-together memoir of the cinematic developments in 90s Singaporean cinema and an inspiring testament to any young indie filmmakers looking to forge their own artistic path.
Shirkers is a fantastic memorialization of lost youth and artistic expression documenting a cinematic breakthrough of what could have been. (5 stars)