Exalting Your Dreams: Shirkers (2018)


It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. It is even more difficult to remember exactly when I started running away from the word “filmmaker” and “director.” I began to use the word “screenwriter” as a means of avoidance, doubting whether or not I had the talent or ability to be anything more. However, as my time devoted to script writing dwindled, I hid behind film criticism, coming very close to convincing myself I would be content with just pursuing that as a career. It is here and now that I want to stop running away from the things that I want, and what I want most is to be a filmmaker. to stop doubting myself and label myself a filmmaker with pride. And the 2018 documentary Shirkers has motivated me to do just that.

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Shirkers (2018)

I watched Shirkers at I think the perfect time in my life, a special occasion in film watching that must be savored. It just so happens that I watched the documentary the same day I uploaded my own short documentary on my mother and her native country of Ecuador. Funnily enough, I was unaware that Shirkers was a documentary and went in expecting otherwise. The film confronts the heartbreak of filmmaker Sandi Tan’s past when the footage of the first film she and her friends made was lost for several decades. The film contextualizes Tan’s love for film and punk and all things cool (and I mean that in the most endearing way! She was and is super cool!) through her narration and images of her childhood and adolescence. Tan interviews the friends who made the film alongside her and we learn about the struggles and excitements behind independent filmmaking in 90’s Singapore, as well as the troubles of having your dream project seized from a friend. Tan’s older “friend” Georges Cardona, the director of her film Shirkers, from which the documentary takes its name, disappeared with the 70 cans of film and the documentary follows this timeline and the eventual reunion of Tan and the passion project of her past.

Interwoven throughout the documentary are snippets of other films that inspired Tan or were relevant throughout the shooting of the original Shirkers. This only further hypnotizes the audience to surrender to the magic of cinema as it captures the essence of the form itself: humanity. Tan compares Cardona to Nosferatu, comments on her forbidden love of Blue Velvet as a young girl, and references the French New Wave as inspiration, all while the bittersweet story unfolds. I found myself not only mesmerized by the film I was watching, but the ones I was peeking into throughout. It became a transcendent moment in which I realized that loving movies is not limited to just watching them, but rather incorporating them into your life, into your psyche.

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Tan recounts the hours of passion (and naivete) that were involved in the original Shirkers and ends the documentary marinating on why the film of her past is a time capsule as it captured her home of Singapore, her friends, her family, and herself in this specific era of time that she forgot. It is through her love of the craft that I regained mine.

At the beginning of the film, Tan narrates “When I was 18, I had the idea that you found freedom by building worlds inside your head. When I was 18, I had so many ideas I hardly slept at all.” Well, now I am 18 and I do not want to simply jot down a couple random words stemming from the multitude of ideas in my head, but rather craft them into tangible, visceral works of art. I want to be so passionate about something that it consumes me. Sandi Tan loved her movie so much that when she lost it and found it again, she made a movie about it. That is a filmmaker. Someone who finds healing through the form, someone who understands the humanity of it, the vulnerability it promotes, and the authenticity it captures. I am so exhausted of silencing the fire inside of me, of convincing myself that simply being an admirer is enough. Shirkers reignited the spark in me to want to create and share the stories I have always wanted to share and chase after filmmaking with ferocity and hope.

Shirkers taught me to stop being a shirker and just fucking make movies.

You can watch Shirkers on Netflix.

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Ariana Martinez (A.M.)

I do not own these pictures.

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