The Incredible Story of Shirkers Director Sandi Tan

Six years ago today, Shirkers shook up the film world when it was released on Netflix. A daring documentary about the making and losing of an earlier documentary, this truly unique film was created by an eighteen-year-old, and then a later forty-six-year-old, Sandi Tan.  If you’re confused, read on to hear an incredible story. 

Sandi’s artistic career began with the original Shirkers, aka the film that the 2018 Shirkers was created from. In the summer of 1992, at just eighteen, Sandi and her two friends set out to create a film under the mentorship of their film teacher, Georges Cardona. Inspired by the French New Wave cinema that Sandi was obsessed with at the time, Shirkers was meant to be a surrealist road movie(the first road movie filmed in Singapore).The film depicted Sandi and her friends’ adventures across their home city. Despite the young age of its creators, the film showed potential for great success. However, Georges took the footage and vanished; it was only when he died that his ex-wife reached out to Sandi to return the footage to her, however, the audio was not there. 

Sandi took that footage and used it to create the 2018 film Shirkers, a documentary about the making of the original film. Incorporating the old footage with interviews with people who’d been involved in the film, Shirkers became an incredibly compelling documentary about art and ownership, creation and loss. Sandi’s strength and tenacity is depicted in Shirkers twofold – in the footage of her younger self featured in the film, and in her older self’s determination to make something out of that footage despite someone else’s attempts to take it from her. As FF2 contributor Dayna Hagewood describes the film: “[enthralling], lively, and full of emotion (both passionate and dissonant), Shirkers is a must-see for artists, cinephiles, and anyone who has ever wondered about the meaning and implications of art.”

When Georges’ ex-wife reached out to Sandi, she had not given up on the film world. In fact, she had directed some short films, such as Moveable Feast (1996), in which a teenage boy takes the viewer through the sights and sounds of many Chinese food sites, like a wedding and a coffee shop. 

Sandi had also written her debut novel, The Black Isle (2012), an epic historical, sci-fi, coming-of-age story of a young woman who moves from Shanghai to the Black Isle, where she lives from the 1920s through the Japanese occupation during WWII. As the war moves in, Sandi’s unique ability to see ghosts could be what saves the Black Isle. 

Sandi’s second novel, Lurkers, came out in 2021. Lurkers is about a neighborhood in Los Angeles, Santa Claus Lane, and its residents whose intertwined lives are filled with struggles and joys both big and small. Lurkers shows Sandi’s passion for and understanding of the beauty of the world, one which she has clearly possessed from a very young age. 

Shirkers alone is an incredible relic of Sandi’s career, built out of decades of passion and drive for storytelling. However, every project touched by Sandi’s sensitive and artistic mind has been a gift to the world.

© Julia Lasker (10/26/2023) FF2 Media


Read Dayna Hagewood’s review of Shirkers here.

Watch Shirkers here.

Read The Black Isle here.

Read Lurkers here.


Featured photo: Sandi Tan author portrait by Chris Bernabeo. FF2 Media use courtesy of Soho Press. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: documentary filmmaker, female documentary filmmaker, female novelist, Lurkers, Moveable Feast, Sandi Tan, Shirkers, The Black Isle

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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