Singapore-born filmmaker Sandi Tan wins Best Director award at Sundance Film Festival

Singapore-born filmmaker Sandi Tan wins Best Director award at Sundance Film Festival

shirkers movie still
Shirkers, Sandi Tan's documentary about the lost and found footage of her 26-year-old film of the same name, won Best Director at this year's Sundance Film Festival. (Photo: Netflix)

SINGAPORE: Singapore-born filmmaker Sandi Tan won the Best Director award for World Cinema Documentary at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival held in Park City, Utah on Sunday (Jan 28).

Tan won for the documentary Shirkers, her feature length directorial debut about previously stolen and eventually returned footage of her own 25-year-old film that would have been her first produced screenplay.

Back in 1992, then 18-year-old Tan scripted and starred in an indie road movie during her junior college days in Singapore with her American film school mentor Georges Cardona, who subsequently disappeared with all the footage.  

Two decades later, the 16mm film was recovered and returned to Tan, which spurred her on a personal journey to unravel the mystery of this unexpected thievery.

The result is the now Sundance winning Shirkers (titled after the stolen film), which combines that original footage with new interviews to offer a dry yet reflective exposition on what could have been.

This win marks the first for Tan, who currently lives in Pasadena, California and boasts a Master of Fine Arts degree in screenwriting from Columbia University.

The World Cinema competition at the Sundance Film Festival - arguably the largest and most star-studded independent film festival in the United States - is dedicated to the discovery of new films and new voices from around the world.

According to a statement presented at the awards ceremony, Tan and Shirkers won the award “for its cooperation of women’s creative labour, for bringing to light an alternate history of independent cinema, for subverting patriarchal sadism and for its multi-layered use of sound”.

In her acceptance speech, Tan, who was present at the festival, thanked all her global collaborators, including Singaporean producer Jasmine Ng who worked on the film with her in 1992 and serves as associate producer on the documentary.

"I think cinema is just magic," she said. "And you just got to keep believing in it."

Source: CNA/gl