In Sandi Tan’s documentary “Shirkers,” her friends, Jasmine Ng and Sophia Siddique Harvey, are very direct in their criticisms about Tan, with Jasmine even calling her “an asshole” several times. But that didn’t bother Tan one bit: “It was the way we talked and that’s the nice stuff!” In our recent chat with her (watch the exclusive video above), Tan elaborates, “It was very important for me to capture that reality. If you’re making a documentary, it shouldn’t be airbrushed or the fake version of reality.” Part of what helped her get these honest reactions from her friends was her choice to hire Iris Ng, who’s very small, as her cinematographer. Iris’s small stature allowed her to “vanish behind the camera” and make the subjects of her interviews feel very relaxed in speaking to her.
“Shirkers,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, chronicles Tan’s experience in making a movie called “Shirkers” in Singapore back in 1992. Tan wrote the script for the film and enlisted the help of Jasmine and Sophia to make the film. The director of the film was Tan’s American mentor, Georges Cardona. The film centered on a stone-faced assassin named “S,” also played by Tan. After filming was completed, Georges vanished along with all the 16mm footage that had been shot.
“The whole thing was a very toxic thing for us,” Tan recalls of the effects the shoot had on her friendships. “The loss of ‘Shirkers’ just kind of broke us up as a group and did things to our friendship and our souls.” When the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, both Jasmine and Sophia joined Tan to view it. It was the first time they had all been in the same room together in 20 years, but the bond they shared was still strong. “Whenever we talk about ‘Shirkers,’ it’s as if we’re teenagers again, like we’re continuing a conversation we were having last week.”
Last month, “Shirkers,” was named as one of the 15 finalists that will contend for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the upcoming Academy Awards. Tan is very clear that she would love to be nominated but at the same time, this whole experience that is still going on, has been so insane that nothing would surprise her one way or the other. The reception that the film has received, including winning the World Cinema – Documentary Directing prize at Sundance and taking Best Documentary from the Los Angeles Film Critics, has been overwhelming. “The awards stuff is great and wonderful and hopefully it will encourage more kids to be reckless, dream recklessly and pursue those dreams.”
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.