Extract from an interview with filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, whose “Searching For Sugarman’ opens this week at the Sundance Film Festival.
What have you learned over the course of making the film?
I learned that it’s possible to live your life on your own terms. Even if it means huge sacrifice, it’s your life and you will regret it if you don’t try. Rodriguez didn’t want to conform to any format or rules. He said what he wanted to say, and then he waited for people to embrace his music and his ethos, and not the other way around. I think that’s something we can all learn a lot from. Maybe more success or more money could come by compromising your dreams, but don’t go there! Rodriguez used to repeat the adage “you shouldn’t take candy from strangers.” That could apply to filmmaking. Filmmakers might go to a film institute for financing and think that all problems will be solved, but it comes with sacrifices. Maybe you’ll get the money, but maybe it’ll be a year too late and you’ve lost your inspiration and passion. If you want to be true to yourself you need to set your own rules – use your own money, and if you don’t have much then make a cheap film. This is much easier with cheap digital technology. If it turns out to be a good film, you can sell it and from the surplus you can make the next film. Times have changed – filmmaking just isn’t that expensive anymore. My cinematographer Camilla Skagerstrom won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes last year for a short film she made using $3000 of her own money. She didn’t compromise. If you want to make a film, it needs to be your film, made on your terms and with the energy you only can get from the possible misconception that all is possible and all your dreams can come true. Don’t wait for the money until you’ve lost the spark – just do it anyway.
In the same way, Rodriguez eventually found his audience his own way. Why: because he stayed true to his ideals. So much so that it seemed like he was almost purposely hiding his talent and avoiding success. But in the end, it turned out to be the other way around. His creativity was uncompromised and therefore flawless. I think this is really something any artist needs to consider carefully. Their true treasure is their own integrity, dignity, inspiration and passion. Protect this at all costs.