Malik Bendjelloul: Searching for Sugarman

A newspaper page: ”American Zero. South African Hero”. The South Africans were right, Rodriguez, the musician the film is about, was/is a song writer and singer on the level of Bob Dylan, but he never made it in the U.S., whereas he was a superstar in apartheid South Africa, where he sold around half a million records and became an icon for the anti-establishment movement – and banned by the official censorship.

It is an incredible story that this award-winning film brings to the screen in a way that ressembles the style of ”Man on Wire”: interviews, archive, reconstructions, ”americana” images of streets and diners in Detroit, his city, and fine animation parts to accompany his music. A kind of suspense is built up: How did he kill himself, with a gun pointing at the head or did he really set fire to himself on stage?

The director follows a couple of fans searching for the answer. His last record was out in November 1971 and he was found alive and kicking 25 years later. In Detroit. It turns out that he had had tough jobs in the building industry, that he at a point was running for a seat in the City Council, and that he has lived the same place for 40 years.

After Rodriguez is found he tours with huge success in South Africa, visually covered through archive and wonderful home video material shot by one of his daughters, who become very much present at the end of the film. They talk about their father and his greatness as do journalists and music people, and this becomes the problem of the film: Rodriguez is no talker, he is a modest man, a fine musician, and why not leave it like that? The film becomes repititive and slightly tabloid where it could have been much more strong letting the small interview bites with Rodriguez stand as they are with no kliché like interviews surround him.

NB. His music is out in connection with the film.

Sweden/UK, 85 mins., 2011

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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