The music documentary Searching for Sugar Man, about two South African fans tracing the story of American singer-songwriter Rodriguez, has been nominated for an Oscar in the Documentary Feature category and a Bafta in the Best Documentary category.
The film, directed by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, follows the efforts of two fans from Cape Town in discovering the story behind Rodriguez’ extraordinary fame in 1970s-80s South Africa and his disappearance from the music scene.
Mexican-American singer and songwriter Rodriguez was discovered in a Detroit bar in 1968. His debut album, Cold Fact, was a commercial flop and he disappeared off the music scene.
When it was rumoured that he had committed suicide by setting himself on fire, it seemed his music had died with him.
A bootleg copy of Cold Fact made its way to South Africa in the early 1970s, though, and became an instant success with people variously opposed to, or out of tune with, the apartheid regime.
“In typical response, the reactionary government banned the record, ensuring no radio play, which only served to further fuel its cult status,” the Searching for Sugar Man website says.
“Over the next two decades Rodriguez became a household name in the country and Cold Fact went platinum.”
It also came to light that he was, in fact, still alive.
Telling Rodriguez’s story
Bendjelloul stumbled across the story in 2006 when he met Stephen “Sugar” Segerman in Cape Town.
It captured his attention, particularly since he had never even heard Rodriguez’s music.
Despite his excitement about the story and his conviction that it was one worth telling, Bendjelloul battled to find investors to back the project. “I decided to see what I could do on my own,” he says.
“I had fallen completely in love with the story and couldn’t stop working on it.”
He painted the animation, worked on the music and even edited the film himself.
“While the total time shooting was only about three months, the entire film took approximately four years to complete,” the website reads.
It was set in Detroit and Cape Town. “I knew I wanted to juxtapose Detroit and Cape Town as much as possible,” Bendjelloul says.
“In Detroit it is winter and night, in Cape Town it is summer and day.
“Since there was nothing filmed of Rodriguez’s life up to when he came to South Africa in 1998, I thought that the animations were necessary to portray his existence up to then,” he says.
‘Showcasing Cape Town’s iconic landmarks’
“The documentary is a great showcase of Cape Town’s most iconic landmarks like Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Camps Bay, the city scape and the ocean road alongside the Twelve Apostles,” says Cape Town Tourism chief executive officer, Mariëtte Du Toit-Helmbold.
“Viewers are transported to a beautiful Cape Town – a city where inspirational and soulful people work and play.
“The international screening and distribution of the film is leading to tremendous international exposure for Cape Town and we are very excited about the Oscar nomination.
“Searching for Sugar Man is putting Cape Town firmly in the hearts and minds of filmgoers across the world,” she says.
Released in 2012, the film also won critical acclaim with the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for Best International Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival 2012; then going on to win further international film awards.
Rodriguez will be playing a series of concerts in South Africa in February 2013.