Searching for Sugar Man

Synopsis: In the early 1970s, Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit folksinger who had a short-lived recording career with only two well received but non-selling albums. Unknown to Rodriguez, his musical story continued in South Africa where he became a pop music icon and inspiration for generations. Long rumored there to be dead by suicide, a few fans in the 1990s decided to seek out the truth of their hero's fate. What follows is a bizarrely heartening story in which they found far more in their quest than they ever hoped, while a Detroit construction laborer discovered that his lost artistic dreams came true after all.
Director(s): Malik Bendjelloul
Production: Sony Pictures Classics
  Won 1 Oscar. Another 39 wins & 30 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
86 min

I got my nickname from this song.

When I was in the Army they used to

mispronounce Segerman as Sugar Man.

And then they just started calling me

Sugar and that became my nickname.

It's 40 years since this LP called

Cold Fact by Rodriguez was released.

And in South Africa

it was a very popular album.

It was one of the biggest albums

of the day.

But the thing was,

we didn't know who this guy was.

All our other rock stars,

we had all the information we needed.

But this guy? There was nothing.

And then we found out

that he had committed suicide.

He set himself alight on stage and

burnt to death in front of the audience.

It was the most incredible thing.

It wasn't just a suicide.

It was probably the most

grotesque suicide in rock history.

The first time that I remember

actually recognizing him is

Mike Theodore called me

on the phone one day and said,

"I have this artist

I want you to come see with me.

"This guy's name is Rodriguez,

"he's working down by the Detroit River.

"There's a bar down there,

"down by the wharf riverside district.

"Let's go see him tonight.

"I think you'll really like him."

So that night, I remember,

we pull up...

away in this kinda isolated

part of Detroit

right on the side of the Detroit River,

and you could see the mist in the air

coming off the river. We could feel it.

And we went inside there,

and as we walked in the door,

we could hear behind us

the sound of the freighters

as they're going down the river,

and so it's like you're walking out

of a Sherlock Holmes novel.

You walk out of the mist

and you go into this place,

and inside the place,

it's all full of smoke,

so there's a mist inside there.

Boom, hey, you know,

it's a wall of smoke.

Beer all over the place. Peanut shells.

It was just a mess.

And then you hear this strumming sound.

Strumming and batting the guitar.

And then you hear this voice.

Strange voice.

Finally, we walked

through the smoke, and I looked,

and there in the far corner I saw...

I could see the shadow of a man

and I couldn't see his face.

I said, "What's the deal?"

So we got a little closer...

And you see this guy

with his back to you.

So all you see is his back

and he's in a corner, singing.

It was an ethereal scene, if you will.

Foggy night, foghorns, smoke so thick

you couldn't see through it.

And here's this voice.

Maybe it forced you

to listen to the lyrics

'cause you couldn't see the guy's face.

That's when we talked to him and figured

we needed to do an album on him.

The only writer that I had heard of,

of that time period,

was maybe Bob Dylan,

that was writing that well.

He was this wandering spirit

around the city.

And, uh, sometimes

I might catch him in the corner.

You know, Detroit's got its share of,

uh, burned-out, desolate areas

and I would occasionally see him, um,

far away from The Brewery,

and I wondered,

and it just added

to this mythology of him.

Like, what is he doing?

What is he doing? What does he do?

I heard he did a little roofing,

some construction work.

Um, I think that's how he got his money

at the time.

He just was, you know,

and I say this with love,

I say this with respect, but,

I thought he was just a...

just not much more than a kind of

a homeless person, you know?

He just was a drifter.

He was just... Um...

I didn't know if he had a home,

you know?

He'd look like maybe he'd go

from shelter to shelter or something.

Detroit in the '70s was a hard place.

Well, it's still a hard place.

Lot of decay, lots of ruined houses.

Real poverty exists in this city.

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Malik Bendjelloul

Malik Bendjelloul (Arabic: مالك بن جلول‎; 14 September 1977 – 13 May 2014) was a Swedish documentary filmmaker, journalist and former child actor. He directed the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which won an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "Searching for Sugar Man" STANDS4 LLC, 2022. Web. 1 Dec. 2022. <>.

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