WAYS OF SEE­ING

Female (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Indie film­maker Sandi Tan on the charm of ana­logue me­dia, gelling them with Gen Z and tech­nol­ogy, and the art of sto­ry­telling.

Her hy­per stylish and per­sonal 2018 doc­u­men­tary Shirk­ers made her an overnight indie idol with its ir­rev­er­ence and mes­meris­ing, colour-soaked cin­e­matog­ra­phy that fused mul­ti­ple film formats with dig­i­tal and punk DIY graph­ics. From it, we learnt about what life was like grow­ing up in ’90s Sin­ga­pore, the na­tion’s movie in­dus­try at the time, and that she co-founded a zine that went the then-equiv­a­lent of vi­ral. So who bet­ter than Sandi Tan (above) to ex­pound on the charm of ana­logue medi­ums, how to make them gel with Gen Z and mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, and that ul­ti­mately, it’s the story that counts? Here, ex­cerpts from her Q&A (done

via e-mail!) with Keng Yang Shuen.

ON THE DIF­FER­ENCE BE­TWEEN SHOOT­ING ON FILM AND DIG­I­TAL

“Dig­i­tal is im­me­di­ate. Film – es­pe­cially the 16mm Ko­dak stock we used (in Shirk­ers) – has a grain and rich­ness in colour that no dig­i­tal cam­era has been able to repli­cate com­pletely as yet. Of course, shoot­ing on dig­i­tal is eas­ier (even look­ing for some­body who knows what to do with 16mm film is an or­deal in to­day’s Los An­ge­les, the film cen­tre of the world), but film has a spe­cial qual­ity that ev­ery­body who loves pre-1990s cin­ema has a spe­cial fond­ness for. Film is also much more ex­pen­sive to work with and every sec­ond you shoot is pre­cious, whereas with dig­i­tal, every mis­take can be erased within a sec­ond and the soft­ware can be reused. Film is in­deli­ble. That is its al­lure, as well as its dif­fi­culty. You’re talk­ing about the dif­fer­ence be­tween silk and rayon. There are times you want to wear silk; other times, it’s hand­ier to wear rayon.”

ON THE ART OF RE­VIV­ING A FILM TWO DECADES LATER – AND STILL MAKE IT FEEL CUR­RENT

“The short truth­ful an­swer is film­mak­ing. I wanted to tell this com­plex story meld­ing time, mem­ory and dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents in the most com­pelling way pos­si­ble, and the route I found best suited to its telling was to cap­ture the emo­tional and creative re­al­ity of what it was like to be (teenage) me at the gen­e­sis of the en­tire Shirk­ers en­ter­prise back in the early 1990s in Sin­ga­pore. It’s a very spe­cific milieu in the mind of a very spe­cific in­di­vid­ual (ie me). And be­cause I was no longer that per­son, this ini­tially took a lot of div­ing back into my own ar­chive and re­claim­ing my own buoy­ant, ir­rev­er­ent teenage per­son­al­ity through os­mo­sis: I mar­i­nated my­self in my own teenage ma­nia to re­cap­ture the tex­ture of what it might have been like to be me. This was the work of months, and of au­di­tion­ing and find­ing like-minded col­lab­o­ra­tors such as my co-edi­tor Lu­cas Celler (a punk skate­boarder by in­cli­na­tion). I lis­tened to a lot of mu­sic and looked at im­ages for ages be­fore I be­gan dis­cov­er­ing new rhythms in telling this very new story… There was noth­ing or­tho­dox in the way we worked. We de­vel­oped our own rules be­cause to tell this story, we couldn’t go by any or­di­nary rule book, and it was a story only I could tell, so I had to be alert to con­nec­tions that only I could see.”

ON WHAT CRE­AT­ING HER ZINE THE EX­PLOD­ING CAT MEANT FOR HER TEENAGE SELF

“I made a lot of col­lages in those days, of­ten us­ing head­lines and pho­tos from The Straits Times and The New Pa­per. It was the way I kept sane: find­ing lev­ity in the ab­surd tedium of teenage life, to­tal­i­tar­ian re­portage and scholas­tic pres­sures in the Sin­ga­pore of the late ’80s. The Ex­plod­ing Cat was re­ally the love af­fair be­tween me and the pho­to­copier, although the first is­sue in­cluded a con­tri­bu­tion from (class­mate and Shirk­ers as­so­ciate pro­ducer) Jas­mine (Ng)’s then 12-year-old sis­ter Lynette – a two-page il­lus­trated guide to knit­ting a sweater for your pet fish – and sev­eral long, vi­o­lent, Bal­lard-in­flu­enced po­ems printed out on a dot-ma­trix printer by our friend Ju­lian Lim, who was a child ge­nius at Raf­fles In­sti­tute.”

ON FIND­ING A SO­CIAL, GLOBAL-SPAN­NING COM­MU­NITY IN THE ’90S

“Around the time of my O lev­els, I sent a long note along with a copy of the first is­sue of The Ex­plod­ing Cat to a zine list­ings pe­ri­od­i­cal called Fact­sheet Five, which was pub­lished in up­state New York. This was be­fore the In­ter­net. You needed this di­rec­tory to learn about all the other zine­mak­ers out in the world. The edi­tor of Fact­sheet Five, Mike Gun­der­loy, was en­tranced by the zine and wrote about it, and soon I had re­quests for it from around the world – peo­ple from Is­rael to Tokyo, to Si­t­u­a­tion­ists in France. And, yes, re­quests from pris­on­ers (as high­lighted in Shirk­ers).

It was my ver­sion of the In­ter­net: hun­dreds of new pen pals… I found my own so­cial net­work and this was my first taste of what it meant to go in­ter­na­tional… In the sec­ond is­sue, I in­cluded po­ems and col­lages made by other zine-mak­ers around the world, and gave them free rein to re­pro­duce mine. It was a free­wheel­ing cul­tural ex­change in those days made via ink, pa­per and scis­sors.”

ON MAK­ING SHIRK­ERS IF SHE WERE A 19-YEAR-OLD (HER AGE IN THE FILM) TO­DAY

“Of course I’d be able to do it! It’s eas­ier than ever to make a film – 12-year-olds have been do­ing it on their phones. How­ever, if I were the same per­son I was when I was 19, I’d still be try­ing to mount some gar­gan­tuan, im­pos­si­ble feat, if not on 16mm film, then shoot­ing on a phone with lenses and apps, (and) I’d prob­a­bly up the ante in other ways: elab­o­rate set pieces and even more far-flung lo­ca­tions. My im­pe­tus back then wasn’t just to make any old film. I was al­ways (and still am) driven to ac­com­plish some­thing dif­fi­cult, and that would show­case a range of my friends’ tal­ents.”

Sandi Tan

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