Singapore-born filmmaker Sandi Tan won the Best Director award for her film “Shirkers” for World Cinema Documentary at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival held in Park City, Utah on Sunday (28 January).
Tan was a film critic at The Straits Times from 1995 to 1997 and is currently a Los Angeles-based novelist. She was nominated in the World Cinema Documentary Competition and the win marks her first award at the film festival.
Shirkers is her directorial debut, which featured a directorial about previously stolen and eventually returned footage of her own 25-year-old film that would have been her first produced screenplay.
Back in 1992, then 18-year-old Tan scripted and starred in an indie road movie back in 1992 during her junior college days in Singapore with her American film school mentor Georges Cardona. However, her mentor subsequently disappeared with all the footage.
Twenty years later in 2011, Cardona’s widow began sending her boxes of storyboards, scripts and scraps of paper that he had kept, including the 16mm film, which spurred Tan on a personal journey to unravel the mystery of this unexpected thievery.
In 2016, 3.5 years after the returning of the footage, Tan finally decided to do something about it. She combined the original footage with new interviews, Jasmine Ng and Sophia Siddique Harvey, who made the original film with her, resulting to a documentary about an unrealised film project and a journey to find out the mystery of Cardona.
The World Cinema competition at the Sundance Film Festival is arguably the largest and most star-studded independent film festival in the United States, which is dedicated to the discovery of new films and new voices from around the world.
According to a statement presented at the awards ceremony, Tan and Shirkers won the award “for its cooperation of women’s creative labour, for bringing to light an alternate history of independent cinema, for subverting patriarchal sadism and for its multi-layered use of sound”.
In her acceptance speech, Tan, who was present at the festival, thanked all her global collaborators, including Singaporean producer Jasmine Ng who worked on the film with her in 1992 and serves as associate producer on the documentary.
“I think cinema is just magic,” she said. “And you just got to keep believing in it.”
Tan and Shirkers won the award “for its cooperation of women’s creative labour, for bringing to light an alternate history of independent cinema, for subverting patriarchal sadism and for its multi-layered use of sound”.
Tan got up on stage and delivered her acceptance speech, saying that making a film is like keeping a secret for a very long time, which was posted on Jasmine Ng’s Facebook account.
Tan ended her speech by saying, “I think cinema is just magic. And you just got to keep believing in it.”
Tan currently lives in Pasadena, California. She attended the University of Kent and has a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from Columbia University.