“Searching for Sugar Man” is the true story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit singer whose career flopped in the U.S., but who became a huge star in South Africa in the 1970s — even though he had no idea of his fanbase there.”He was the soundtrack to our lives,” says one South African music exec in the film trailer. “Everyone I knew had his records.”
Rodriguez’s first album “Cold Fact” in 1969 was a bomb in the U.S., “maybe selling six records,” the trailer explains. But in South Africa, Rodriguez’s lyrics about overcoming hardship made him “more popular than Elvis Presley and bigger than the Rolling Stones.”
Photo: Searching for Sugar Man
Despite his popularity, no one in South Africa really knew who Rodriguez was, until one day, word spread that he had committed suicide by lighting himself on fire while performing on-stage.Decades later, Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul set out to uncover more information regarding the mysterious figure and his untimely death, but what he found instead was 70-year-old Rodriguez himself—living in Detroit and having no idea of his success overseas.
Knowing he had a huge story on his hands, Bendjelloul went to two of Britain’s top producers of big-screen documentaries, Simon Chinn of “Man on Wire” and and John Battsek, to help him make and fund a feature-length documentary film.
But funding only covered a year of expenses and production on the film took three years.
When he had no money left to shoot with an expensive camera, Bendjelloul simply used the Super 8 app on his iPhone.
According to the Sundance Film Festival website:”The lack of funding forced some things to be finished in a way that initially was not intended. The first year of the production there was some money coming in that was used to shoot with a Super 8 camera. But the last three years there was almost no money coming in and it was too expensive to finish the scenes with the same camera. In the end, it proved that a one dollar iPhone Super 8 app worked just as well. The bar scene in the beginning where the producers discover Rodriguez was, for example, shot with that app.”
When the film was finally completed and submitted to Sundance, the film institute was blown away and chose the documentary to open the 2012 festival.
“Searching for Sugar Man” went on to win the festival’s Special Jury Prize and Audience Awards at Sundance, the LA Film festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and Durban Film Festival.
Sony Pictures Classic released the film this July and it has so far earned $1,435,234 at the box office.
In August, Rodriguez sold out his show at New York’s Highline Ballroom–his first major local concert since the film’s release in July.
And on Sunday, Rodriguez and filmmaker Bendjelloul were featured on “60 Minutes.” Watch the fascinating segment below:And watch the “Searching for Sugar Man” trailer:
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