Sunday, December 30, 2018

Movie with Abe: Shirkers

Directed by Sandi Tan
Released October 26, 2018

Every year, hundreds of films are released and consumed by the public. Some screen across the globe for millions of people, while others play only to small audiences at film festivals. Year-end lists cite the best and award acting and technical achievements, but that’s only for those films that actually see the light of day. Tremendous time and effort is put into many projects that, for any number of reasons, don’t end up ever being completed and as a result are never seen.

In 1992, Sandi Tan is a teenager in Singapore obsessed with movies and trying to make her countercultural mark on her young country’s minimal cinema industry. She writes a screenplay for a road movie called “Shirkers,” and cobbles together a production with little more than youthful energy. As she works on the film with her friends Jasmine and Sophie, her teacher and mentor Georges Cardona, serving as director, remains distant and mysterious. His sudden disappearance at the very end of filming with all the footage leaves the friends dejected and heartbroken, until unexpected events give the project a new life almost two decades later.

This documentary is at once reminiscent of another construction of a film that never was, though production never got nearly as far on the project depicted in “Jodorowsky’s Dune.” Here, pieces of someone else’s work are not being assembled but instead it’s the filmmaker herself who is digging into the annals of her memory and the few physical remnants of her hard work. This experience, though it took place many years ago, feels impossibly recent, unmatched by anything else she has done in her career and all the more poignant because it never came to fruition.

Tan, who appears onscreen mostly only in archive footage as she remains behind the camera and narrates, describes her path to filmmaking as backwards, beginning with a full production followed by her studies at film school. What recovering this film does for her is helps her to fully understand and unpack her origins, aiming as a young visionary to reinvent the cinema of her country in a way that felt totally pure and unhinged. This film documenting that journey feels the same, inviting its audience on a wild, unexpected ride that proves to be immersive and exciting, showcasing true art from its conception to its disappearance to its unlikely reincarnation.


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