Sandi Tan's Shirkers is on the shortlist for 2019 Oscars' Best Documentary Feature category

Movie still from the documentary Shirkers directed by Sandi Tan.
Movie still from the documentary Shirkers directed by Sandi Tan. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Director Sandi Tan's Shirkers has made it to the Oscars' shortlist for Best Documentary Feature, likely the first such achievement for a Singapore-born film-maker.

Her work is among 15 films whittled down from the 166 submitted. The final nominees will be announced on Jan 22.

In a WhatsApp message to The Straits Times, Tan, 46, said: "It's a particularly strong year - lots of media references to this year being the golden age of documentary - and I am thrilled to be part of a cohort of some of the most exciting and innovative film-makers working today.

"It's been a glorious year for us all on the circuit and no matter what happens, we'll be bound by having been comrades in this exceptional year."

Shirkers is about her mentor, American film teacher Georges Cardona, vanishing with a 1992 road movie of the same name that the then 19-year-old and her two friends Jasmine Ng and Sophia Siddique had made. The documentary deals with the aftermath of the theft and how it haunted them. Twenty years later, Cardona's widow contacts Tan to tell her that she has the footage, minus the audio tracks. But answers remain elusive.

The documentary won Tan, a former Straits Times film critic, a Sundance Award for Best Director. It has also been named to several best-of-2018 lists, including by the British Film Institute.

The film is streaming on Netflix. The 2018 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature was Netflix's Icarus, about an international doping scandal.

Other titles on the Oscars shortlist include Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the Critics Choice Award Best Documentary winner about beloved American television personality Fred Rogers; Three Identical Strangers, about triplets separated at birth who later find each other as teenagers; and RBG, a film about the American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Previously, Singaporean animator Nickson Fong, as part of a three-man international team, took home an Academy Award for Technical Achievement in 2013 for inventing a technique that makes 3-D animated characters and faces more life-like.

Also announced yesterday was the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film, which includes Japanese film-maker Hirokazu Kore-eda's family drama Shoplifters and South Korean director Lee Chang-dong's mystery thriller Burning.

Other titles that made the cut are Columbia's Birds Of Passage, Denmark's The Guilty, Germany's Never Look Away, Kazakhstan's Ayka, Lebanon's Capernaum and Poland's Cold War. Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, showing on Netflix, also made the list.

Shortlists were also unveiled for the categories of Documentary Short Subject, Makeup And Hairstyling, Live Action Short Film, Visual Effects, Animated Short Film, Music (Original Score) and Music (Original Song).

Popular songs such as Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's Shallow from A Star Is Born and Kendrick Lamar and SZA's All The Stars from Black Panther are on the shortlist for Best Music (Original Song).

The 2019 Oscars will be held in Hollywood on Feb 24.