Searching for Sugar Man is a 2012 Swedish–British documentary film directed and written by Malik Bendjelloul, which details the efforts of two Cape Town fans in the late 1990s, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman and Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, to find out whether the rumoured death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez was true, and, if not, to discover what had become of him. Rodriguez's music, which never took off in the United States, had become wildly popular in South Africa, but little was known about him there.
Initially using Super 8 film to record stylised shots for the movie, director Malik Bendjelloul ran out of money for more film to record the final few shots. After three years of cutting room work the main financial backers of the movie threatened to withdraw funding to finish the movie. He resorted to filming the remaining stylised shots on his smartphone using an iPhoneapp called 8mm Vintage Camera to complete the film.
Searching for Sugar Man was the opening film at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012, where it won the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best international documentary. It was released in the United Kingdom on 26 July 2012, and had a limited release (New York and Los Angeles) in the United States the following day.
Searching for Sugar Man performed very well during its theatrical release, earning $3,696,196 at the US box office (47th of all US docs on Box Office Mojo).
Searching for Sugar Man has received widespread critical acclaim. As of May 2014, the film holds a 95% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8/10, based on reviews from 117 critics.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a glowing four-star review, writing "I hope you're able to see this film...and yes, it exists because we need for it to."The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis also wrote a positive review, calling the film "a hugely appealing documentary about fans, faith and an enigmatic Age of Aquarius musician who burned bright and hopeful before disappearing." Critic Dargis subsequently named Searching for Sugar Man one of the 10 best films of 2012.
The film's narrative omits that Rodriguez was also very successful in Australia in the 1970s and became aware of it enough to tour there extensively in 1979 and 1981. Some critics have taken issue with this, calling it "myth-making". However, the film focuses on his mysterious reputation in South Africa, and the attempts of music historians there to track him down in the mid-1990s. South Africans, and especially the main protagonists, were unaware of his Australian success due to the harsh censorship enacted by the apartheid regime coupled with international sanctions that made any communication with the outside world on the subject of banned artists virtually impossible.
Awards and nominations
Searching for Sugar Man won the Best Documentary category at the 85th Academy Awards. Rodriguez declined to attend the award ceremony as he didn't want to overshadow the filmmakers' achievement if he came up on stage with them. Upon accepting his award, Chinn remarked on such generosity, "That just about says everything about that man and his story that you want to know.” However, Malik Bendjelloul also said on stage, "Thanks to one of the greatest singers ever, Rodriguez."
The Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking has nominated "Searching for Sugar Man" for five awards, tying with "The Imposter" for the most nominations. Winners of the 6th Annual Cinema Eye Honors will be announced on 9 January 2013 as Cinema Eye returns for a third year to New York City's Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, New York.
Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking – Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn
Production – Simon Chinn
Graphic Design and Animation – Oskar Gullstrand, Arvid Steen
Searching for Sugar Man is a 2012 soundtrack album from the documentary containing a compilation of songs by Rodriguez from his two studio albums. In Sweden, it reached #3 in early 2013 when the Academy Award nomination was announced, and had been in the charts for 26 weeks by the time it received the award in February 2013; in Denmark it reached #18; and in New Zealand it reached #24.