I know I’m late to the party, but I only recently caught up with Searching for Sugar Man, which debuted to great acclaim at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has built a steady following ever since. Its protagonist is even being profiled on 60 Minutes this Sunday. But if you’re curious about him, or the movie, I’d encourage you to skip the broadcast (or record it to watch at a later time) and let the movie unfold its constantly surprising story as the filmmaker intended.
This is the saga of an elusive Detroit-based singer-songwriter of the early 1970s named Rodriguez. Always something of a mystery to the people around him, he nevertheless had a profound effect on everyone who met him or saw him perform. Producers and record executives who worked with him compared him to Bob Dylan. But the public never embraced his albums and he faded into obscurity…except in South Africa, of all places, where he became a pop culture icon and his records were prized possessions.
That’s all I want to reveal of this remarkable, stranger-than-fiction true-life story. But it isn’t merely the content that makes Searching for Sugar Man so affecting: it’s the way that Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul sets up the story and peels away the mystery of Rodriguez, one layer at time. He also understands that Detroit is a significant character in Rodriguez’s life and creates a series of evocative mood pieces that give us a sense of the place that inspired the balladeer’s heartfelt songs. This is the work of a true filmmaker, not just a curiosity-seeker who happened to pick up a camera.
Sony Pictures Classics plans to open the film in a number of additional cities next Friday, October 12. I urge you to see it, and then learn more about its protagonist. For a list of upcoming play dates click HERE.