As we continue watching the gems from Sundance 2018, as we did with Summer of 84, next on our list is the documentary Shirkers. We will be watching a few films from the Sundance 2018 list and reviewing them. As a documentary newbie, not my favorite genre, this film stood out as something special. It was a Netflix original, a mysterious story, and it was grippingly told by Sandi Tan, the mastermind behind Shirkers. With a consistent 100% on Rotten Tomatoes to this day (if you care about that sort of thing).

Shirkers also displayed Jasmine Ng, Sophie Siddique, and Georges Cardona as the main cast. The story goes that Sandi Tan created a film in 1992 with her friends Jasmine and Sophie. Her film teacher, whom she was close to, Georges shot the independent film Shirkers. After wrapping, one of the greatest films Sandi Tan and her friends created, they left the film with Georges as they went to study abroad for college. However, Georges disappeared with the footage never to remained seen again. Twenty years later, and ten years following the death of Georges, his previous wife contacted Sandi through e-mail and let her know she possessed the footage. Still, the audio tracks were missing…

The footage was there and to this day they could not find the audio tracks for Shirkers. Instead of releasing the film as it stood with no audio, Sandi decided to create a documentary. One about those said years she made the film, how it turned up missing, and how she received it back. Shirkers‘ interviews Sophia Siddique Harvey, Philip Cheah, Ben Harrison, Grace Dane Mazur, Jasmine Ng, Stephen Tyler, and Georges Cardona’s widow, who is unnamed throughout the film.

What Do We Make Of Shirkers?

Who is Georges Cardona and why would he take a film that had nothing to do with him? What stake did he have in the game no one was aware of? In this documentary Shirkers, we find out what happened to the film, how it was made, and why on Earth Cardona would even want to keep a film that was not his virtue, to begin with. The three friends who made the film with Cardona have sat for two decades wondering why Cardona would travel around with 70 cans of film. A man who lied about half of his life, was a manipulator, and somehow, in some way, took advantage of everyone in his path, including his ex-wife. When you watch the documentary, you become engulfed in the story of Tan and her adventure to find out what happened to her indie film, Shirkers.

A Documentary To Make You Love Documentaries

Throughout the film, however, we don’t learn much about who Cardona is. We learn he had many secrets; one being that he lied about his age and who he was. At times, even his wife wasn’t sure of his name or who he said he was. The film, Shirkers, that was created by Tan, Ng, and Siddique was a masterpiece. Something that would have brought to the surface a new way of screenwriting. In a way, it makes sense that Cardona felt threatened about it. Leaving the audio tapes and destroying them was his piece in the puzzle. It was his piece that left this group that worked on the film with only half of what they needed.

Maybe he always knew they would get them back and wanted to — even after his death — still have the last laugh. He wanted to make them feel… frightened. Throughout the documentary, we also learned that these friends, who seemed to be the best of friends, truly didn’t know what they were doing. Cardona took advantage of that mere fact and, along the way, ruined friendships because of it. Not in a way that makes them resent each other, but in a way that creates an uncertain and tense vibe when they mention the said thing that didn’t pan out the way they wanted. In a way, Cardona took from them what they didn’t deserve to be taken and got the last laugh still to this day. That is what is frightening about the production of Shirkers.

A Conversation To Be Had About A Forgotten Film

This review, overview, and conversation about Shirkers might be all over the place. Yet the documentary is that way too. It is a conversation that goes back and forth in Tan’s mind about what the hell could have happened to their film. Is what she remembers about the film correct? Nonetheless, Tan, often debunked by Jasmine, believed she was the greatest part of the film. While she claims she ‘didn’t want to be the main character,’ it was essentially written by her, for her. She knew that, but again, as Jasmine often calls her, she is an asshole. Which, again, begs the question:

Is what we remember always the truth?

Often, in Cardona’s case, is what we remember always fact? Is what he says always fact? No. Yet to adolescents and kids who want to be a big name someday and subsequently meet someone with a big name, it appears as the truth. That is where Shirkers lands. Somewhere in the abyss of before its time and nowhere to be found.

The film won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at Sundance in January 2018.

Shirkers's story is an unusual one; an indie film set in Singapore where no one knew shortly after filming the entire film would disappear under one man: Georges Cardona. Why would he take a film that has no use for him and keep it for decades to come?