Searching for Sugar Man

Rodriquez. Image: Hal Wilson
Image: courtesy Rodriquez
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“A documentary about fandom and freedom, information and misinformation, fleeting fame and everlasting art.” — William Goss, film.com


Year: 2012
Country: Sweden, UK
Running time: 85 mins
Genres: Music

Producers: Simon Chinn, Malik Bendjelloul
Screenplay/Editor: Malik Bendjelloul 
Photography: Camilla Skagerström
Music: Sixto Rodriguez
DCP

With: Sixto Rodriguez, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, Dan Dimaggio, Jerome Ferretti, Steve Rowland, Willem Möller, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, Eva Rodriguez, Regan Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy

Festivals: Sundance, SXSW 2012
Audience Award (Documentary), Sundance Film Festival 2012

The less you know now about Mexican-American singer-songwriter Rodriguez, the more happily amazed you are going to be by this film and its tale of a truly humble artist’s relationship with fame. If you are already a fully paid-up fan, then you’re surely going to welcome close-up material you’ve never seen before. Singing hurting ballads and songs of social protest, Sixto Rodriguez recorded two albums in Detroit in the early 70s. Both flopped in the US, but in Cape Town, South Africa, they made him bigger than Elvis. His lyrics expressed working class disenchantment with a directness that young Afrikaaners understood – and which their rulers were all too quick to condemn. ‘I Wonder’, a gentle protest song from the album Cold Fact, became a generational anthem.

In the absence of subsequent albums his legend grew: he had committed suicide on stage, overdosed, burned himself alive. Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul approaches his subject through the detective work of two South African fans who set out in the 90s to find out what had really happened. They followed the money – which is a classic rock and roll story in itself – and found themselves spear-heading a new era in Rodriguez recognition. — BG

“If every Sundance film festival needs at least one documentary to remind white people of all the great music in the world they don’t know about, Searching for Sugar Man seems like 2012’s front-runner for the best one. A born crowd-pleaser whose central mystery begets a great triumph of grace and modesty, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary is a hugely entertaining, emotionally touching, and musically revelatory experience.” — Todd Gilchrist, The Playlist

NZIFF STAFF PICKS: Brooke Hawe, Michael McDonnell, Jim Rush, Taylor Sanders

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