Shirkers (2018)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.  

USA, 2018.  Cinereach, Doc Society, Shirkers.  Screenplay by Sandi Tan.  Cinematography by Iris Ng.  Produced by Jessica Levin, Maya Rudolph, Sandi Tan.  Music by Ishai Adar.  Film Editing by Lucas Celler, Kimberley Hassett, Sandi Tan.

In 1992, Sandi Tan is a nineteen year-old student and film lover who is determined to make her first feature and jump start an independent movement in her native Singapore.  Writing a script and assembling a crew of her closest friends, she puts the project together under the guidance of her media teacher Georges Cardona, a man who inspires Sandi and her peers with his love of cinema as well as with his incredible connections: among other impressive details, he tells them that he was the inspiration for sex, lies and videotape and knows the production manager of Apocalypse Now.  Filming of Tan’s script Shirkers is completed despite the fact that Tan casts herself as the lead and has never acted before, while her production manager Sophia Siddique Harvey is the same age and is bold enough to secure locations and resources to complete shooting, but then something happens that pushes this story into legend: Cardona takes all the footage and disappears, never to be heard from again, and for the next twenty years, despite moving ahead with her career in film, Tan is haunted both by the absence of her creation as well as her increasing realizations about the man she thought was a friend and mentor but turned out to be something of a bizarre and destructive Svengali.  Two decades later she recovers the footage and has now put together a fascinating film that includes scenes from the original project as well as interviews with friends and cast members, recalling the making of the film and the journey they have been on since.  The footage of the original Shirkers  is startling, every frame assured and colourful, while the attempt to navigate Cardona’s mind and life is a fascinating mystery that has the filmmaker flying around the world trying to put the pieces together; this is both a factual account of a grave injustice done to the subject at hand as well as an examination of the importance that creativity can play in our lives, and is bewitching throughout.

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