Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
They say that the most incredible stories are true stories, and this wonderful film by Swedish documentarian Malik Bendjelloul is out to prove just that. Well actually, I don't think Bendjelloul is out to prove anything, which - apart form the story itself - is one of the most rewarding aspects of Searching for Sugar Man. This is an open and searching film, made with no need for self-justification.
The story is about a talented singer-songwriter out of Detroit, called Rodriguez, who gained local recognition in the early 1970s, earning himself a record-deal and recording two critically acclaimed albums. The records sold poorly, and Rodriguez slowly faded into obscurity. Bendjelloul then shifts focus to South Africa, where a group of critics, musicians and fans tell a remarkable story of how Rodriguez had been their no. 1 musical inspiration during the height of the apartheid regime in the 70s and 80s, selling hundreds of thousands of records. His anti-establishment lyrics had made his songs anthems for young dissidents of the apartheid government. And when asked how big he was there, they reveal that he was "far bigger" than The Rolling Stones. But because of the strict censorship in the country at the time, they knew very little about the man himself, and many of his songs were banned from radio-play. According to a South African legend, Rodriguez ended his career by committing suicide on stage. Then in the 1990s, after the fall of the apartheid regime, journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom and Rodriguez fan Steve Segerman begun investigating what had actually happened to Rodriguez...
I don't want to reveal much more about the film's proceedings after this, other to say that when the South Africans' search is revealed to have been fruitful, a little over halfway into the film, Searching for Sugar Man goes from fascinating to truly inspirational. The spirit of the music and the man himself is more uplifting than just about anything I've seen on film, and director Bendjelloul has a beautiful, non-invading focus; he's not particularly interested in pursuing the big money which undoubtedly had gone into wrong pockets (by the millions), and he's not out to invoke any form of bitterness or vindictiveness; he simply wants his viewers to share, enjoy and be inspired by this beautiful story. Something I can almost guarantee that you will be.