Director: Malik Bendjelloul
MPAA Rating: PG-13
It isn’t often that a documentary comes out where after seeing it you find yourself wanting to know more about its subject matter. Searching for Sugar Man is such a documentary.
In the late 60s and early 70s a folksinger, Rodriguez, in Detroit gains notoriety within the local music circles as a unique artist who ranks with the likes of Bob Dylan. His songs and lyrics are eloquent, poetic, haunting and melodic. Known for playing all kinds of venues with his back to the audience, he is signed by a major label and records a few albums. The albums were well received but simply did not sell and the albums and the artist eventually faded into obscurity. You would think this is where the story ends but you would be wrong.
On the other side of the globe in South Africa, for generations an artist became a folk hero and inspiration during the anti-apartheid movement. His music touched many to the core by letting them know it was okay to speak out and stand up for yourself. No one has ever seen him, no one knew of him, no one knew just who he was, they only knew his music. Two fans, Stephen a record shop owner and Craig a music journalist, set out to find him and are heartbroken to learn that he may have committed suicide. Again you would think this would be the end of the story but you would be wrong. This is where the story truly begins.
After posting a website that sought out the truth about Rodriquez, Stephen and Craig are contacted by an unexpected source, Rodriquez’s family. They are informed he’s alive and well. Eventually the two are put in touch with the man of mystery, meet and convince him to play a concert in South Africa.
This is an incredible journey. Not just for Rodriguez but for an entire nation. One man discovers he has indeed succeeded where he thought he failed and a nation is able to see their hero. One person describes it as seeing Elvis Presley after he’s died. It’s transcendental. Never missing a beat, the documentarians make sure to capture all the feel-good moments such as the bewilderment that Rodriguez’s fellow co-workers feel when they learn what he’s done or Rodriguez meeting his fans. They also make sure to shed light on who Rodriguez is by looking at his life and how he raised his children. More importantly, his music permeates the film’s soundtrack and after hearing it I wanted to listen to all of his albums.
This is nominated for Best Documentary Feature. It is readily available on home video but if you have the opportunity I would suggest seeing this in the theatre. It is still playing in select cities.