So far this year has brought us many good documentaries but the crème de la crème is still to come. Searching for Sugar Man is preparing itself for a nation-wide release on Friday 27 July. Though it might struggle to compete against the opening ceremony of the Olympics on its first day, it is bound to win gold in the box-office.
Malik Bendjelloul’s debut feature Searching for Sugar Man definitely has all the ingredients for a great documentary: the story is one you have never heard of, it is leading you to places you had never imagined it would take you and it reveals something to you which you didn’t know existed. In fact, the whole story is so unbelievable that it simply has to be true.
It all started with Rodriguez, an obscure, unknown singer songwriter who recorded a couple of Bob Dylan-style albums in Detroit during the late 60s early 70s. Ever heard of him? No, I didn’t think so.
Still, when the opening titles appear onto the screen and we see a city that is rough, hard, tired and poor like its people, you will be instantly mesmerised by the sound of his voice and the power of his lyrics. Rodriguez, it turns out, could sing like no other.
So why have we never heard of him and what is he doing now?
Well, that is the narrative of the film.
Two record companies thought they’d struck gold with the singer when they released his albums, but for some reason both didn’t sell. Only a mere handful saw the light of day and was able to lift people’s spirits with their sound, so, as a result, it wasn’t long before the money tap was closed and Rodriguez’ contract abandoned. Nothing was ever heard of him again.
Unbeknown to anyone though his music miraculously found a way to survive on its own, moving all the way from Detroit to an oppressed South Africa during the years of apartheid. There, halfway across the world, Rodriguez’ music (which spread around by people making illegal copies of the first existing tape) became the face of a nation’s struggle for freedom and equality. His lyrics gave people the power to oppose what they had almost gotten used to, gave them the power to protest, to dream and to carry on.
But with his music’s popularity growing, questions about him arose, and it wasn’t long before some people decided to look into who Rodriguez actually was. How come nobody from the U.S.had ever heard of him, surely he was famous there?
It was around that time that rumours of a dramatic onstage suicide entered the arena.
Now, years later, the documentary Searching for Sugar Man follows the only people who sought for the truth, and the film will convince you of the fact that in real life that truth can be stranger than fiction.