The Academy Award winning documentary ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ looks at the mysterious circumstances in which singer songwriter Sixto Rodriguez rose to fame in South Africa without knowing, and without reaping any of the benefits. Written and directed by Malik Bendjelloul, it explores two mega fans of Rodriguez, who join forces to solve the case, with the incredible tale told mostly through talking heads interwoven with the soulful songs of Rodriguez, crooning over Dylan-esque guitar melodies and sticking it to the man.
When he released his albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality in 1971 and 1972 respectively, for some unknown reason, nobody in American cared enough to support him and the record sales were near non-existent, but years later the album and his powerful words found their audience in South Africa, during apartheid. It was said that his album was so well received, it could be found in nearly ever white home in SA, alongside Abbey Road and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Yet because of this, it was assumed Rodriguez was also a success across the Atlantic when in fact, he was far from it. It raises many questions of the music industry and the darkly selfish nature of it. It is astonishing to think that while his albums were playing to thousands on the radio in South Africa, he was none the wiser, working long hours in construction to provide for his family.
Bendjelloul’s low budget direction has the same charm as much of Rodriguez’s music, the audio and visuals blending harmoniously, but it has been suggested he has made some embellishments and omissions in order to create a more presentable story. Whether this is the case or not has no significance for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed how it was pieced together, with great suspense in leading up to the screen introduction of Sixto himself. The interviews with his three daughters are particularly moving when he goes onto receive the recognition he had deserved for his work decades before. His music was a godsend to his dedicated supporters during their nation’s battle for equality, and this emotive account captures that sense of adoration. The captivating true story is translated to cinematic scale, showcasing his talent to all who care to embrace it, and putting the mystery of the financial gains to one side, serving as a celebration of a talent which was so nearly lost.