There’s only one word that can sum up this past Saturday night for me; euphoric. I didn’t know what to expect when I was offered a ticket to view a screening for the soon to be released documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ by director Malik Bendjelloul.
Turning up at the BFI in Southbank has always brought a smile to my face, I love films, and was welcomed by a large portrait of Warren Beatty as Clyde in Bonnie and Clyde (one of my favourite films). Thoughts running through my mind as I sat down waiting for the documentary to be unveiled were those of home, South Africa, and the music I was brought up listening to; the legendary songs I know so well (although not knowing all the musicians behind them). Being born in the 80s in South Africa, at the heart of armed resistance during Apartheid and growing up in the 90s when change was happening every day, I feel proud to be a part of this change, growth and positivity that the new South Africa strives to be. So, why am I thinking about home? Because the mystery around this documentary that I was about to watch, holds a very special place in South African hearts.
Before the lights dimmed and we were lit up from the reflection of the screen, we were told that after the screening, we would be in for a special treat. I was buzzing, Searching for Sugar Man had won two awards at Sundance 2012 (World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize for its Celebration of the Artistic Spirit and World Cinema Audience Award for a Documentary) and Malik Bendjelloul (who worked with musicians such as Rod Steward and Sting) had directed it.
Searching for Sugar Man follows two South Africans (Steven ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew- Strydom) who seek to find out what has become of the musical legend, Rodriquez. The man who was the greatest U.S rock icon in the 1970s that never was, had become a legend in South Africa after a copy of his album made its way to South Africa. During the height of Apartheid, the antiestablishment message from his music moved South Africans. The mysterious musician became a legend, unbeknown to Rodriquez himself. With little information about Rodriquez, these two South Africans sought to find out what happened to Sixto Rodriguez.
A positive and deeply inspirational documentary left the audience captivated, emotional and ultimately humbled. If there is any film you choose to see this year, see Searching for Sugar Man. Bendjelloul captures the audience, with his celebration of the arts, exploration and depiction of one man’s life and a nation’s legend; you simply cannot let this film pass you by.
With the credits rolling on the screen and the music from my childhood rolling through my head, the evening got even better. Bendjelloul appeared on stage for a Q&A session, followed by none other than the legend himself, Sixto Rodriguez. The atmosphere in the theatre was incredible.
The questions came flooding in. When asked why Bendjelloul chose to direct this documentary, he said “Because it was one of those stories that I couldn’t tell in 6 minutes, even if I tried… There was an aura of mystery and inspiration to do the film… I’ve been working on it since 2006″. For a humble Rodriguez, he simply said “The energy in this room speaks for itself. It’s a remarkable thing he (Bendjelloul) has done. I’ve seen it over 30 times, and seeing my daughters on screen was something special.”
Notably a shy performer, known for singing with his back to an audience in the 70s, when asked about his first performances in South Africa, Rodriguez commented “It was something. Anyone who has been to South Africa will know it’s wonderful. The people are wonderful. The fan base is in South Africa and Australia.”
The documentary focuses on political matters such as Apartheid and poverty in the U.S, to this, Rodriguez said about the film that “it’s not just an education; it’s enlightenment. Malik brings up Apartheid. That’s what makes this film important… The music that I do… I can’t help but look at politics and speak about it.”
Coming from Detroit, Rodriguez was influenced by the politics of the city, urban living and to this he said “music is inspired from all urban cities. Detroit has history, we all have history.”
After being dropped from his record label shortly after his second album was released in the 70s in the U.S, Rodriguez was forced into the unknown in the U.S. However, his albums at one point only available in South Africa are now available in the UK, to which Rodriguez said after over 30 years, “It’s getting around”.
Do yourself a favour, purchase Rodriguez’s albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality. You won’t regret it. Royalties are finally going to him too!