shirKErs (Sandi Tan) is a master class in documentary storytelling. A highlight of this year’s Hot Docs Festival, it is part mystery, part memoir, part teen movie and part behindthe-scenes drama that uses a tantalizing hook – the recovery of a lost classic of Singaporean cinema – to tell a deeper personal story. Growing up in the stodgy Southeast Asian city state, Tan and friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique were obsessed with punk culture, zines and indie films. In 1992, they teamed with American film instructor Georges Cardona to make a road movie but when production wrapped he vanished and took the footage with him. Years later, Tan is living in the U.S. when she rediscovers the lost film. The footage is eye-popping – a cinematic treasure and gorgeous time capsule for pre-gentrification Singapore. It transports her back to her teen years and a friendship between young women yearning to express themselves in a conservative society. Reuniting with Ng and Siddique soon takes greater prominence than resolving the mystery behind the film’s disappearance. Though Cardona’s absence occupies much of Shirkers, he turns out to be a supporting player in a story about the intensity and transience of teenage friendships and how the success of a creative endeavour hinges on the alchemy among a specific group of people. Shirkers is a movie about dashed dreams and the meaningfulness of closure, but it’s the opposite of bitter or rueful. Streams on Netflix from October 26. 96 min. NNNNN (Kevin Ritchie)
Sandi Tan revisits her rebellious youth in Shirkers.