Singapore-born film-maker Sandi Tan wins Sundance Film Festival directing award for Shirkers

(From left) Producer Jessica Levin, songwriter Quinn Walker, associate producer Jasmine Ng, director Sandi Tan, associate producer Sophia Siddique Harvey and director of photography Iris Ng attend the premier of Shirkers at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Jan 21. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Singapore-born US film-maker Sandi Tan won a directing award for her film Shirkers at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday (Jan 28).

The 45-year-old, who was a film critic at The Straits Times between 1995 and 1997, was nominated in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. The win marks her first award at Sundance.

The film, which is also Tan's first feature directorial effort, revisits a time in the 1990s when as a precocious 19-year-old, she shot a feature length film of the same name under the tutelage of her mentor at the time, American film school teacher Georges Cardona.

The film, which Tan scripted and played the lead in, was shot guerilla-style in the streets of Singapore back in 1992, and followed the adventures of a teenage assassin, S, whose weapon of choice was her fingers twisted into the shape of a gun.

In a real-life plot twist though, Cardona disappeared with the footage. Tan recovered the 70 reels only more than 20 years later in 2011, when Cardona's widow began sending her several boxes of storyboards, scripts and every scrap of paper that he had kept.

It was another 3½ years before Tan, who was based in Los Angeles then, decided to do something about the footage.

In 2016, while she was enrolled in the Sundance Documentary Fellows programme, she cut a trailer and submitted it production companies for grants.

The result is a magical documentary about an unrealised film project and a journey to uncover the mystery of Cardona, through people who knew him well.

Original footage - sans audio as Tan never got the audio tracks back - was woven alongside interviews with her two friends, Jasmine Ng and Sophia Siddique Harvey, who worked on the film with her back in 1992.

A scene from Shirkers, which was shot guerilla-style in the streets of Singapore back in 1992. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SANDI TAN

Tan, who attended the University of Kent and has a MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University, was elated about her win.

When contacted, Tan, who was at the awards, told The Straits Times in an e-mail: "Don't stop believing, man!"

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