We live in a world where sometimes the greatest talent goes unrecognized and doing what you love can come at a price. '70s musician Sixto Rodriguez is certainly familiar with this concept and in many ways, his music reflected this concept. Backed by producers who believed his musical genius was on par with that of Bob Dylan, Rodriguez never knew why his music didn't quite click with the American public, just that it didn't. So life went on for him and no hard feelings were had because, as he puts it, "there are no guarantees in the music industry."
It's this lack of entitlement, this humbleness that compels us to happily accept his fairytale of a story. For years, he made music and a living in Detroit doing construction, never chasing fame or money, simply doing what he loves for the sake of doing it, later to discover he's a music legend bigger than Elvis... in South Africa. His album had gone platinum and he was asked to perform there in front of thousands of people, which he said "transformed him." He's now visited South Africa four times, and enjoys visiting because "it's a beautiful country and the people are gorgeous," but will always call Detroit his home as he has for the past 70 years, living in the same home. "There's a lot of rich history here. It could be further ahead than it is, but there are great people in this city that go through a lot," he says, naming it "the city of victims" and crediting its turmoil for fueling much of his musical inspiration.
Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul stumbled across the story while travelling in Cape Town, eventually making it the documentary, Searching for Sugar Man. Jobless, he went travelling with nothing but his camera looking for a story, and he certainly found one- it's the kind of story most writers can only dream of finding, almost too good to be true. "It was my first film, so I had no expectations. I am very lucky. It's a very special story."
It wasn't just luck that brought Bendjelloul all his success- it was also through hard work and persistence. "People told me to not even bother or try to get Rodriguez to talk. They told me he wouldn't answer any of my questions," he says. So, getting the singer on camera was an achievement in and of itself. "I really resisted. I was very reluctant and skeptical. I wanted it to be possible to live a personal private life, and I'm glad I did it," says Rodriguez, who Bendjelloul describes as a "great man with a lot of integrity." It took four years to film, a lot of which is shot right here in Detroit, which is dubbed by Bendjelloul as "the perfect setting." He elaborates, "The city scape makes for a very cinematic place and the people were great. It's full of random charismatic interesting people that can really tell a story."
In a medium overrun by negativity, this film inspires. "It makes people have hope that things are possible. It's about dreams that came true," says Bendjelloul. | RDW