In Chinese folklore, the spider spirit is a shape-shifting femme fatale who lures men into a web of deception causing death. Rather than reckoning with the spirit spirit as a stable narrative, A Spider, Fever and Other Disappearing Islands is an experimental documentary that borrows and subverts these mythologies through a return to the spider spirit’s oral historical roots in my grandmother’s memoirs. Tracing the colonial period to the present-day, my grandmother’s migration between the Indonesian Riau Islands and Singapore becomes entangled with a spider spirit’s migratory route. Together, they construct a psychogeography of loss between two Southeast Asian islands, where stories of colonial ghosts, memories of sisterhood, and tales of disappearance are woven together through a melange of media forms: iPhone footage, confessional interviews, surreal dream re-enactments, animation, drawings and ethnography.
The film features three women who embody interchangeable roles within the memoir: Grandma, her ghost sister, their granddaughters, the spider spirit and a traveler; each negotiating trauma through their role as story-tellers within the haunted city. Embroidered by a web of collaborators from all over Southeast Asia, what emerges is a re-imagined archipelagic and family history that reclaims the act of story-telling as simultaneously generative and fluid.