SPOTLIGHT FILMS: Searching for Sugarman

By Contributor
January 26th, 2013

In the late sixties two record producers, Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore discovered a talented working class minstrel in a run-down bar in Detroit called “The Sewer”. They were moved by his “soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics.”  In the early 70s Sixto (Sugar Man) Rodriguez was signed to Sussex Records. He was subsequently dumped as a result of low record sales. Rodriguez sunk into obscurity… or did he?

Strangely, unbeknownst to Rodriguez or the American music industry, his songs from two albums were a hit in South Africa where the musician built a substantial following among the liberal white middle class for whom Rodriguez’ music became an anthem of sorts against the hated and feared Apartheid regime. One song even went platinum.

Still widely popular and somewhat mysterious in South Africa twenty years later “Sugar Man”  became the subject of rumours as to his demise, including an attempted on stage suicide. Two fans, Cape Town record store owner, Steve (Sugar) Segerman and music journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydon set out to discover the truth and search for their hero.

In his directorial debut Swedish director Malik Bendejelloul tells the tale of the subsequent quest and what follows is an artful blend of mystery, biography and documentary.

This is a bizarrely heartening tale fueled by hope, inspiration and the resonating power of music.

There will be questions unanswered, though, such as how the royalties from the sales of his music went unnoticed. Oh, and how the record got to South Africa: it is rumoured that an American woman brought a copy to the country to give to her boyfriend. The bootleg album was an obvious hit, a fine example of networking prior to electronic social media.

Searching For Sugar Manwas produced by Simon Chinn (Man on a Wire) and the executive producer was John Battsek.

Just a few of the fifteen or so awards Searching has won or has been nominated for include: Durban Film Festival, Audience Choice; Sundance World Cinema, Documentary Special Jury Prize and Documentary Audience Award; Los Angeles Film Festival, Audience Award; Moscow, Grand Jury Prize; International Documentary Association, Best Feature and Best Music; nominated Best Documentary at the upcoming Oscar Awards.

Searching For Sugar Manwill be shown at the Gem Theatre Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Thanks to Red Fox Films, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, Cosmic Yurba of This is Africa, and Wikipedia.