S'pore-born director wins at Sundance

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Sandi Tan gets directing award for debut film in World Cinema Documentary

Singapore-born American filmmaker Sandi Tan has won a directing award for her film Shirkers at the Sundance Film Festival.

The 45-year-old, who was the film critic at The Straits Times from 1995 to 1997, was nominated in the World Cinema Documentary Competition and the win marks her first award at the film festival.

The film, which is also Tan's directorial debut, revisits a time in the 1990s when, as a precocious 19-year-old, she shot a feature-length film of the same name under the tutelage of her mentor at the time, American film school teacher Georges Cardona.

That film, which Tan scripted and played the lead in, was shot guerilla-style in the streets of Singapore in 1992, and followed the adventures of a teenage assassin, S, whose weapon of choice was her fingers held in the shape of a gun.

In a real-life plot twist, Cardona disappeared with the footage and Tan recovered the 70 reels only in 2011, more than 20 years later, when Cardona's widow began sending her boxes of storyboards, scripts and scraps of paper that he had kept.

It took 3 1/2 years before Tan, a Los Angeles-based novelist at the time, decided to do something about the footage.

In 2016, while a fellow in the Sundance Documentary Fellows programme, she cut a trailer and submitted it to production companies for grants.

All through the film are snippets of the original footage - the audio tracks are still missing - weaved alongside interviews with her friends, Jasmine Ng and Sophia Siddique Harvey, who made the original film with her.

Tan, who attended the University of Kent and has a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from Columbia University, was elated about her win and told The Straits Times over e-mail from the awards ceremony: "Don't stop believing, man!"

The top prize at the Sundance Film Festival went to The Miseducation Of Cameron Post.

Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, it delighted and shocked audiences with its story of a teenage girl forced into therapy after being caught having a sexual encounter with the prom queen.

Its directorDesiree Akhavan won the grand jury prize in Sundance's US Dramatic section.