Sandi Tan Interview: ‘Shirkers’ director
In 1992 Sandi Tan was a teenager in Singapore with a passion for film. She set out with her friends to make the country’s first indie road movie, “Shirkers,” with the help of an American mentor, Georges Cardona. Tan wrote the script and played the lead, a killer known simply as S., in what was to be a homage to the iconoclastic directors she adored. But when Cardona vanished with the footage, it stalled her career. The 16mm cans were rediscovered 20 years later, and Tan decided to make a documentary about the experience to try to “solve the mystery of what happened.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Tan above.
Growing up in Singapore, Tan didn’t have easy access to the kinds of films she wanted to watch, oddball indies from Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, and the Coen Brothers. “They became more magical, these totemic things,” she recalls, “these movies that I would read about in magazines.” Due to local censorship laws, Tan had to be creative when seeking out those titles, sometimes crossing the border into Malaysia to find pirated copies, other times convincing a cousin in Florida to send her homemade tapes. “This made the pursuit of movies much more active on my part,” which made it “more religious, more special, and more meaningful.”
Her missing “Shirkers” footage was eventually delivered to her doorstep in boxes, which was “a gift and a curse,” Tan admits. “It was like a dark force,” and she knew she would be “sucked into a vortex of obsession” when she decided to deal with it. But when she finally delved into it she “realized there was something really special there, and that I had to tell this story because it’s not just about me. It’s about everybody else who worked on this thing, and I had to get my friends back together again and talk about this. It was an extremely difficult process because it was such a dark place for all of us whose lives were affected by it.”
Tan’s efforts were not in vain. She premiered “Shirkers” at the Sundance Film Festival, where she won the Directing Award in their World Cinema–Documentary lineup. The film has also received a Gotham nomination for Best Documentary, where it’s also competing for their Audience Award.
“Shirkers” opened in select theaters and started streaming on Netflix on October 26.