Shirkers | Film Q+A

Sandi Tan delves deep into the extremely unconventional, convoluted process of bringing Shirkers to screen. Shirkers, a documentary about the road movie Tan made at 18 which was then stolen by her mentor, required her to revisit that traumatic time in order to do justice to this extraordinary story.

Dealing with a complex antagonist

The thing about Georges is I don't really think of him as a villain...he's still the best storyteller I've ever met. He's a man who's never finished anything in his life.

Despite the fact that her trusted mentor made off with their project before they'd finished it, Tan has a hard time demonising him entirely. Instead, she sees his actions as almost pathological, and she puts his betrayal in context of himself as an artist.

Georges' final blow

Tan remembers the realisation that the audio from Shirkers was missing from the reels she had been able to recover, speculating that this was a purposeful move by Georges.

He knew that even if we put the puzzle together and put this film together, it would never be complete.

Retelling a story that's stranger than fiction

There was nobody to tell because there was no proof. There was no one who would actually believe me; it would sound grandiose.

One of the unique challenges presented by Shirkers was crafting a story from the fragments left over from a bizarre sequence of events. Tan says the dramatic, heist-like story that emerges was only made possible by the recovery of the footage, without which it may have seemed an exaggerated fabrication.

Revisiting your younger self

Tan remembers the process of rewatching the film they had been making with trepidation, saying that observing herself as a teen (and watching the film that she had created) was harrowing until she remembered to put herself back in the shoes of her younger self.

As soon as I got into the headspace of what my teenage self was like, I knew I could tell the story.