Shirkers (2018)
November 17, 2018 8:30 AM - Subscribe

In 1992, teenager Sandi Tan shot Singapore's first indie road movie with her enigmatic American mentor Georges who then vanished with all the footage. Twenty years later, the 16mm film is recovered, sending Tan, now a novelist in Los Angeles, on a personal odyssey in search of Georges' vanishing footprints.

This is currently streaming on Netflix.

Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times:
Like a photograph slowly developing before our eyes, “Shirkers” (which was also the title of the original picture) is both mystery and manhunt, a captivating account of shattered friendship and betrayed trust. The skill of the editing (by Tan and two colleagues), though, is key: interviews are woven organically throughout the narrative, and little nuggets of rewarding information are withheld until the final stretches. In this way, the movie is constantly surprising and delighting us, not least in its creative use of the original film’s footage. Those long-lost images, miraculously recovered by Tan two decades after their disappearance, would send her on a quest to reconnect with her former collaborators and make sense of her past.
Monica Castillo at
In the discussion of men, women and abusers in Hollywood, not much has been said about the opportunities stolen from artists by those in power. It’s almost too painful a thought: Where could have the careers of women directors have gone if they hadn’t been thwarted by sexism? What art have we missed out on because someone higher up in the entertainment ecosystem decided to derail their careers?

In many of these cases, it’s a torturous game of “what if.” We’ll never know what could have been. But in the new experimental documentary, “Shirkers,” there’s a peek into a movie that once was before it was stolen from the hands of its young women filmmakers. The fragments of the teenagers’ original project are like remnants of a broken vase in the hands of director Sandi Tan, who originally wrote and starred in the group’s movie. She holds up the snippets of 16mm film and her memories of that time to the light, and you can see what it once was, the potential it had and the man who took it away from Tan and her friends.
Alissa Wilkinson at Vox:
It’s a mesmerizing, fascinating story that also feels like an attempt, on Tan’s part, to reclaim the film from Cardona, putting it back in the hands of its rightful owners: herself and her friends. In that way, the new Shirkers is a kind of punk feminist project — a deeply personal, fabulously engrossing, visually assured bit of first-person creative nonfiction filmmaking.
posted by octothorpe (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This post reminded me to watch this. I had seen the trailer a while ago and thought it looked interesting. And it was. Great trip through memories.
posted by smasuch at 11:34 PM on November 18, 2018

Loved this. It was a compelling and well-constructed mystery, it hit on how something you create or a place can be as big a loss as a person would be, what it's like to have an older male mentor as a very ambitious young female person, it had a vibe that still felt of a piece of the 90's punk ethos (loved the coloring, the scraps of their zines used as scene transitions, the music...) and I found Sandi so charming in spite of everyone calling her an asshole. Maybe for that reason.

as much as people are probably like "it's about Female Friendship (tm)!" it's about a really specific kind of friendship, the kind where you've known each other your whole lives and float back periodically, time-traveling into the people you were during the most intense part of your life, and how that's kind of magical but also kind of awful. I found Jasmine and Sandi's prickly personalities bouncing off each other to be very - we've all felt that, you know?
posted by colorblock sock at 8:02 PM on November 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just absolutely adored this! It's about so many things, but the way it's about just being young and how the world is big when you're young and how you lose that as you get older, through people harming you and you just changing and so on, it was just so resonant and powerful.

Certainly the way it explored how young women's work is crushed is convincing. The way one man can destroy so many other people's lives so easily. The way there are so few outlets for indy Asian filmmmakers.

I wish I could see the original Shirkers! What a movie.
posted by latkes at 4:24 PM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m not a documentary fan, but I loved this movie. I saw a couple episodes of Maniac afterward and kept thinking, “Shirkers did this first! And it was better, even without sound!”
posted by Maarika at 8:12 PM on December 7, 2018

Finally saw this after putting it off for too long and it was really great. I liked getting even a small window into Singapore, a country that’s by and large invisible to me. I loved the editing and the narrative arc, and the soundtrack, and I loved the slight ambiguity shot through the film about whether the first Shirkers would have been great or if it just appears that way in the rose-colored spectacles of memory - how Sandi is the only one in the movie who criticizes her own performance, leaving us in doubt over just how good it was. Just a really enjoyable investigation and transcending of a painful incident. And what as monster Cardona was, sending those blank tapes back! What a senseless bit of cruelty.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:52 PM on July 5, 2020

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