Documentary filmmaking doesn’t get much better than the inspirational story you’ll see in “Searching for Sugar Man.” It is the account of a very fallible man who, at times, seems almost saintly in the life he has led, and the manner in which he perceives and treats the world and other people. The subject of this film, Sixto Rodriguez, (known professionally as just Rodriguez) is a musician and songwriter from the mean streets of Detroit who in the 1970s earned a two album recording contract, with both albums receiving high critical praise. However, sales of the albums were so slight the recording label cancelled his contract.
It is as this juncture that the story of Rodriquez really begins.
Rodriquez disappears, literally. No one knows where he is and what has happened to the mysterious and enigmatic performer.. But an unusual thing happens. His first album, “Cold Fact,” finds its way over to South Africa and Rodriguez is bigger than Elvis over there. Eventually, “Cold Fact” sells over 500,000 copies and his music and poetry become major sociological symbols in South Africa. However, rumors persist Rodriquez is dead after attempting suicide. Or is he?
I’ll leave the balance of this great exercise in storytelling for you to discover when you see this film, and I recommend you do. Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul did this documentary on a shoestring budget as a labor of love. He even taped most of it with his smart phone, and did the editing & mixing on his laptop.
The story of Rodriquez is practically impossible to envision, but nonetheless, it happened. The purity, authenticity and depth of his music and lyrics ring from the earthen soul of a man whose life is a painful but joyous discovery of the secret of life. And don’t be surprised if “Searching for Sugar Man” wins an Oscar as best documentary. It is the least that Rodriquez deserves.