Shirkers (2018)

Review #1,627

Director:  Sandi Tan
Plot:  In 1992, teenager Sandi Tan and her friends Sophie and Jasmine shot Singapore's first indie - a road movie called "Shirkers"- with their enigmatic American mentor, Georges Cardona.  After shooting wrapped, Georges vanished with all the footage...

Genre:  Documentary
Awards:  Won Directing Award - World Cinema Documentary (Sundance)
Runtime:  96 mins
Rating:  PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Source:  Netflix

Celebrate Singapore Film Society's 60th anniversary with our fundraiser screening of Shirkers - get your tickets:

Singapore cinema continues to surge forwards with Sandi Tan’s Shirkers, which won the Directing Award for World Cinema (Documentary) at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.  Acquired by Netflix, and having its homecoming premiere on the big screen (possibly the only chance you can watch on the big screen) at the Capitol Theatre as part of the Singapore Film Society’s 60th anniversary, Shirkers is essential viewing for anyone into documentaries about the travails of filmmaking and haunting personal odysseys.  

An occasionally narcissistic look at one’s own past, Sandi’s highly personal documentary is a work of bold imagination, melding footage from the never-edited indie road movie (also called “Shirkers”) that she shot together with her rebellious friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique nearly 30 years ago, with her own narration and talking heads by present-day Jasmine and Sophie themselves.  The result is one of the finest-edited films to emerge this year.  

Whilst watching Shirkers, I can’t help but feel that it shares a fleeting kindred spirit with Oliver Stone’s magnum opus, JFK (1991), which is not just one of the best-edited films of all-time, but also a political masterwork centering on conspiracy theories.  Central to Shirkers is Georges Cardona, an older mentor to Sandi, Jasmine and Sophie, and director of “Shirkers”, who inexplicably absconded with the dozens of reels after principal photography was completed, leaving the trio shocked beyond belief.  Georges, to me, is like the film’s ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’, a figure of controversy and whose mysterious persona is thoroughly investigated by Sandi, revealing even more uncertainties.  

Sandi’s attempt to revisit the past, or to put it more accurately, to reopen the Georges Cardona case (after much hesitation over the years) in order to exorcise the many spectres of “Shirkers” gives us a remarkably salient work that utilises investigative journalism techniques and the audio-visual power of cinematic construction to bring back to life what I would describe as ‘the ghost film and its ghost figure’.  Georges’ centrality to Shirkers and “Shirkers” cannot be underestimated, yet in the process of un/recovering what existed, Sandi also asks of us to bear witness to Singapore’s burgeoning film culture of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, as well as her country’s landscapes as preserved by her celluloid.  

She also smugly references films (many of them European auteurs like Godard or Wenders) that have influenced her and her work, but it is the time capsule of “Shirkers” that should resonate most with Singaporeans, however niche the audience is going to be for this fascinating work.  Recommended viewing!

Verdict:  One of the finest-edited films to come out this year—it is not just a time capsule of Singapore in the early ‘90s, but a remarkably salient work about the exorcism of filmmaking ghosts.  




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