One of the five Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Feature in 2013 is “Searching for Sugar Man” by Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn. It’s playing at the Grand Cinemas Crossroads Festival theater, 4811 E. Grant Rd. and available on DVD as well. Last week a perfect stranger recommended that I rent it at Casa Video on E. Speedway. Sometimes these serendipitous moments prove advantageous in life, so I decided to see it for only $1.50 on discount Tuesdays at the Crossroads.
It is truly an inspiring movie of how two Cape Town, South African individuals (a record shop owner and a journalist) who both happened to love the haunting guitar songs of an unknown American musician Sixto Rodriguez go on a hunt for information about him. There had been a myth that Rodriguez had committed suicide while on stage, after only producing two record albums, “Cold Fact” in 1970 and “Coming From Reality” in 1971. Rodriguez had been wildly popular back then in South Africa, but his poetic music had not caught on anywhere else including Detroit, Michigan where he had been singing in bars as a young man.
The documentary is interspersed with songs by Rodriguez, and is basically the story of how the two fans found him years later via the internet and one of his 3 daughters, and how they brought him to South Africa in March, 1998 where he is considered a super star. He performed there in six sold-out concerts before thousands of fans. But back in Detroit he lives alone and is not a rich man, doing construction/renovation/demolition work.
What is amazing and heartfelt about this movie is the love of the white South Africans for this mysterious Hispanic male singer, considering their history of apartheid, which was abolished officially in 1990. And despite the sudden fame, Rodriguez remained humble and unassuming.
If you don’t know of Rodriguez (I didn’t) this is an inspiring, unusual movie considering the distance and cultural differences between impoverished Detroit, Michigan and Cape Town, South Africa.
Find out on Feb. 24 if this film wins the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I’ve also seen two other films in that category, “The Invisible War” (about rape/sexual assault in the U.S. military) and “Five Broken Cameras” (about the Israeli border wall on the West Bank, and non violent Palestinian demonstrations against it over a 5 year period).
UPDATE: Save the date for April 19, as Rodriguez is coming to the AVA Amphitheater due to popular demand (no longer at the Rialto Theater, which was too small for the large # of fans):
UPDATE 2/24/13: “Searching for Sugar Man” wins Best Documentary Feature Oscar at 2013 Academy Awards. See this movie, still playing at the Crossroads Festival movie theater, though only once a day right now.