Despite the disorder that permeates Shirkers by Sandi Tan, it ultimately is a defiant ode to the gendered poetics and politics of filmmaking. Above all, it reminds us there is no future in our nostalgia, and no nostalgia in the future of our past, to recall Arthur Yap’s poem on the well-known Singaporean mourning for a past snatched too soon from us.
As a Singaporean film writer, I am acutely aware of the difficulties of breaking out of impossible censorship and a meagre amount of funds granted to independent cinema. It is rare to even see Singaporeans believe in our own artistic potential. That’s why Tan’s internationally-acclaimed work not only holds extreme cultural significance in our country, but also instills hope for the next generation of Singaporean filmmakers. For the first time, I am seeing a piece of Singaporean work talked about by my fellow colleagues here at Much Ado. It may simply be casual chatter to them, but for me this chatter reflected the visibility I have desired so much for Singaporean art. And I did not know how much I have wanted our art to be part of a simple, off-handed discussion on an international stage. Shirkers changed all that.
The exploration of religion is popular in all narrative media, from television, film, music, video games, and literature; many people find spiritual and religious inspirations from the products of those media, some of which have even produced their own religions. In the book Visioning New and Minority Religions: Projecting the Future, Pavol Kosnáč describes pop culture-based religion as “radically de-institutionalized, eclectic, fun, experimental, parody-and sarcasm loving.” Despite their nature, these kinds of religious movements are usually populated by people whose beliefs, membership and spirituality are as genuine as those of worshipers of traditional religions. Kosnáč explains that one example of how pop culture-based religions are created is through the interpretation of a film’s message and its impact on one’s life. In other words, the fans of the film take the message and shape it into an ethical system.
When my turn came to write for “Films That Made Us Happy” series, I had only one film in my mind: The Shape of Water. It is not only my favourite film of the year (in a tie with Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion) but it is also the one that made me feel a way that is impossible to explain with words – which is why I wrote five drafts of this piece, each one somehow more inadequate than the other to convey how I felt.
Read any review, tweet, or basically any form of writing about ‘Lady Bird’ and you’ll likely find a line like: “I feel like Greta Gerwig wrote ‘Lady Bird’ for me” or “It was like the pages of my teenage diary had come to life”. Greta Gerwig’s beautiful debut is a singular experience for any woman because it feels like you are reliving your senior year of high school all over again. This can all be attributed to the fact that this hasn’t been written by a man trying to score a paycheck, but a woman who has lived through this herself.