In 1992, a 17 year old me was considering what options to take in my work life. Like many of us, we all had dreams and aspirations which flew out the window when reality sinks in. The other side of the world in the small country of Singapore, a young Sandi Tan had a dream of being a filmmaker which was stolen from her. 25 years later, Shirkers that teen road movie she dreamt finally arrived at a destination. But not the one she was expecting.
You know what they say, what wasn’t mean’t to be wasn’t mean’t to be. Fate sometimes likes to take us on a completely different life path than you were expecting. That path could be one of karma or one of your own choosing.
Shirkers plot is straightforward. Three young Singaporean women (Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique Harvey), who want to create their own films. What happened next makes this film fascinating watch. The centre of attention was the girls mentor, George Cardona a forty something American teacher. They all work on what was mean’t to be a road movie about a female assassin named Shirker.
Cardona installed himself as the director and when the film was finished and in the can he disappeared. The film went with him, however 25 years later Tan got a surprise. Cardona’s ex-wife returns the film, all 70 reels of (16mm) film.
The first thing you will ask, why did Cardona take the film in the first place? What did he see in the film? Tan was obsessed with him, that much she went on midnight car trips even a road trip to his home town of New Orleans. You certainly feel she was in love with him even though she would say it was only platonic. She was certainly under his spell, you wonder if the girls ever question themselves spending so much time with this married man.
It was a wise move that Shirkers doesn’t focus just on Georges Cardona and the theft. This transforms into a coming of age tale, one of reflection, celebration. When we meet the three women now, we never meet them altogether. From the interviews you can clearly see Jasmine is very angry. Harvey is more nostalgic, giving the film a little slice of humour with a fake seizure scene to attract the public.
Shirkers certainly reflects the decade (1990’s) the girls made the original film. They were disillusioned, rebellious teens intertwined with Tan’s love for Western movies. Their home country was a nation who had no passion to create their own film industry. From lost footage to assembled clips , animations , interviews the film’s aesthetic is like a fanzine or scrapbook. If anything this is like Tan’s love letter to all things Wes Anderson and Terry Zwigoff‘s Ghost World.
The film doesn’t unearth any cathartic revelations or solve that burning mystery behind the ‘stolen’ movie. What we get is something that gives us nostalgia as well as anger, pain and lost friendships. By the end of the film you realise that Georges Cardona wasn’t the only person running from something. Shirkers if anything gives Sandi Tan some healing and closure.
A profoundly entertaining movie that reminds us to cull our egos and be wary of those sheep in wolves clothing.
Documentary | Singapore, 2018 | 15 | Out now | Netflix Originals |Dir.Sandi Tan | Jasmine Ng, Sandi Tan, Sophia Siddique Harvey | Georges Cardona