Director/screenwriter Malik Bendjelloul tells the story of a 1970s U. S. born recording rock musician who is relatively unknown for his music in the USA, yet very well known and celebrated in South Africa. During the SXSW 2012 Film and Music Festival, I would have likely missed this documentary film, Searching for Sugar Man, had it not been for the strong urging of two people who had familiarity with the content and star of the film. I appreciate them for bringing this to my attention, otherwise I would not have learned the story of singer/songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez, nor seen his live performance in Austin as part of the SXSW music showcase last March.
Bendjelloul does an excellent job conveying the story starting with the background in South Africa of what Rodriguez means in that country, to taking the viewer on the journey to find out more about an artist with little known information available until a huge discovery is made that is well beyond what anticipated. The connection that is made is priceless for music fans, as well as for documenting the history of a Mexican American rock musician from humble beginnings.
I continue to be amazed that this composer of many songs with a comparison to Bob Dylan’s were recorded but did not reach the level of recognition that was merited. But the reality is, it was the 70s and many musical artists did not have reputable management and honest people to look out for their best interests when it came to contractual agreements and profits.
Malik Bendjelloul informs the viewer about how Rodriguez’s copy of his record has been in South Africa, is well received by a country suppressed by apartheid and reaches phenomenal success. Rodriguez’s antiestablishment message connected with the people. The interviews with people from different backgrounds and ages provides a great background for how famous Rodriguez is in their country.
Rodriguez’s second album gets released on CD in South Africa and two fans of the artist, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, start a project to learn more about the composer, his rumored death and where the album sales profits went. The research they start evolves into so much more than ever anticipated and unearths the incredible truth about the composer; his efforts despite humble beginnings, his accomplishments as he lives a quiet life, as well as being the father of beautiful daughters who have their own stories to tell.
The 85 minute documentary left me wanting to acquire his music and shout for joy that someone discovered and shared Rodriguez’s story with the world, giving him the time in the spotlight he merited decades ago. His music resonated with fans years ago and I have no doubt it still would, as many of Dylan and Rodriguez’s lyrics still ring true for many. My next step is to seek out the soundtrack!
The film opened at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best international documentary. The film also won the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Durban International Film Festival, as well as the Grand Jury Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival. I encourage music and history fans to not miss this excellent film.
Searching for Sugar Man opens at the Violet Crown Cinema and the Regal Arbor Theater on August 17th