Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Searching for Sugar Man have scooped the top screenplay honours from the Writers Guild of America.
In addition, Searching for Sugar Man saw Malik Bendjelloul win for best documentary screenplay.
The story about the hunt for enigmatic US musician Rodriguez beat competition from The Central Park Five, The Invisible War, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, We Are Legion: the Story of the Hacktivists and West of Memphis.
The Oscar-nominated documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” tells the strange story of singer-songwriter Rodriguez. Back in the early 1970s, the record company had high hopes for him. With eminently hummable tunes and lyrics that eloquently spoke to life on the mean streets of Detroit, Rodriguez seemed poised to be the next Bob Dylan. But his two albums, “Cold Facts” and “Coming from Reality,” never really caught on in the United States. That would seem to be the end of the story, except, for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear, Rodriguez’s album did, unbeknownst to him, phenomenally well in South Africa. His songs proved to be the anthems of a generation of young South Africans who were increasingly frustrated by their government’s apartheid policies. While his albums were selling as well as “Abbey Road” in Cape Town, Rodriguez seemingly disappeared into obscurity.
“Searching for Sugar Man” also follows some hardcore South African fans, such as Steve “Sugar” Segerman, who grew fascinated by the mysterious origins of his favorite albums. Over many years, he eventually managed to track down the musician, who was living like a Zen monk in a rundown section of the Motor City.
I talked with the movie’s director, Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, a couple of weeks ago, just before the Oscar nominations were announced. He talked about discovering the strange story of Rodriguez and his own difficulties with getting the movie made, which included having to shoot part of the film on his iPhone. “Searching for Sugar Man” comes out this week on DVD.
One of Q’s films of 2012, Searching For Sugar Man recounted the heart-warming tale of singer-songwriter Rodriguez. A commercial flop when he released his music in the early 1970s, he became one of the biggest artists in South Africa… without him – or the outside world – knowing. With the documentary just released on DVD, director Malik Bandjellou explains how he became interested in Rodriguez’s story and why the internet age means it was probably rock and roll’s last great untold tale.
I was travelling around Africa with a camera looking for stories for Swedish television. I quit my job and just went on this trip. In Cape Town I met Sugar [fan and record shop owner Steve “Sugar” Segerman] and he told me the Rodriguez story, it was one of six I got from the trip. I went home and the story just stuck in my brain, the others didn’t, so I started to feel it could be something longer.
The whole thing was the South African experience made it unique. It was two stories: one was how South Africa was cut off from the word and this could happen; and the other was this beautiful resurrection. How they’re connected with each other for me was the story because it’s unlikely this kind of story could happen now. There was no internet, no medium to connect these two elements up. For that reason a story like this will probably never happen again.
The other reason why I didn’t do so much about the money was Rodriquez. He is a really, really different man when it comes to that stuff. I never met anyone like him. He literally doesn’t want it. You first think it’s crazy, but when you think about it, it actually makes sense. He never started to consume. And when you don’t consume there are a lot of sacrifices, of course; you can’t buy stuff and you can’t do stuff and you can’t go travelling to Mexico on nice vacations, but you also win something. You gain some freedom. No one can every tell him he has to do this, because he can always say, no I don’t need to, because I don’t need your money. I have to do stuff that I don’t want often, because I have this lifestyle that I’ve started to support. So why didn’t I say more about money? Because in the end it was only me that cared about money, because I am a normal guy who cares about money and you are too that’s why you asked that question, but he doesn’t. His is a different story. He is a different guy. – Malik Bendjelloul
The Searching for Sugar Man juggernaut rolls on as Malik Bendjelloul’s sleeper hit about the unlikely resurrection of singer-songwriter Rodriguez copped the jury prize for Best International Documentary at the 10th Beefeater In-Edit music documentary festival in Barcelona.
The awards were presented Saturday on the penultimate night of In-Edit, which drew around-the-block queues for dozens of new and vintage music films for 10 nights in the Catalan capital’s university district. It’s the eighth festival to honor Sugar Man since its Audience Award-winning breakout at Sundance in January. Released theatrically in July by Sony Pictures Classics, the film has also done $2.2 million in box office as of late October – pretty serious numbers for a music documentary, especially one about an obscure bard whose two early ’70s albums sank without a trace in his US homeland but became massive hits in South Africa. (For a bit of context, that’s $800,000 than Marley has taken in.)
Is it too early to start compiling my list of the Top Ten Films of 2012? Because there’s one film that I know will be on that list no matter what else is released between now and the end of the year—“Searching for Sugar Man,” a remarkable, intensely moving documentary by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul.
Bendjelloul — whose previous credits include a number of music documentaries for Swedish TV, but who had never directed a feature film before – wasn’t the first to unravel the Rodriguez mystery. But with Searching For Sugar Man (the film’s title comes from one of Rodriguez’s signature songs), he’s helping to bring the Rodriguez legend to the world at large. The singer, now 70, already emerged from the shadows to play for hordes of ravenous South African fans, as well as making himself available for a drama-drenched “big reveal” after the film’s Sundance screening. And after Searching For Sugar Man’s July 27 New York/L.A. opening, (not to mention the release of the soundtrack album drawing tracks from both of Rordriguez’s records) this stranger-than-fiction true-life tale will make the mysterious balladeer a hero to a whole new audience.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest ’70s rock icon who never was. Discovered in a Detroit bar in the late ’60s by two celebrated producers struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics, they recorded an album which they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation leads them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.
In 2006, director Malik Bendjelloul took six months off from his job at a Swedish television newsmagazine to travel the world in search of material for future segments. In Cape Town, South Africa, he was told “the best story I ever heard in my life,” Mr. Bendjelloul recalls. The problem: “There was no way I could tell it in seven minutes.”
Whilst traveling in South Africa, Director Malik Bendjelloul was caught off guard when he heard singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez’s story – the story that would become the basis for the music documentary SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN. Rumored to have committed suicide on stage after a show in the 1970’s, Rodriguez had become somewhat of a legend and a mouthpiece for the people of South Africa. Completely unbeknownst to Rodriguez – who was living in the States after his first two records failed to generate any money for the record company – there was a parallel life half a world away that was chock full of the acclaim he should have received in his homeland.