True crime was always a miss for me, but then Sandi Tan made a documentary about Shirkers, the indie film she shot as a teenager on the streets of Singapore in 1992, which was subsequently stolen from her and friends by their mysterious older mentor when he vanished with all their footage, and now I get it. This shit is riveting. Of course, it probably helps that three young renegade movie buffs in Singapore in the early 90s is a fantastic subject all on its own. Just connecting with each of the girls 25 years later as they reflect on that time and what happened to their relationship would have been amazing, but then you drop a con man and a great loss into the middle of it, and it becomes, yes, pure cinema.
Had it been completed, the original Shirkers would have been a marvelous oddity. Nowhere near a Great Work of cinema, being made by a bunch of kids and misfits with no money, but still game-changing as the first feature-length indie movie to come out of Singapore. Sadly we’ll never know what influence it may have had in its time. But in Tan’s documentary by the same name, Shirkers is not necessarily brought back to life, as Sophie, the 18-year-old producer turned film professor at Vassar, puts it, but given “an afterlife.” A ghost story after the style of Ghost World (though it would have predated that film, and Rushmore too, its empty spot in the lineage a loss Tan felt keenly when she watched these later movies), Shirkers is now a time capsule of a lost city, a key piece of evidence in the tale of a serial sham artist, and the subject of a documentary that might just change the game after all.