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Searching for Sugar Man is a 2012 Swedish-British-Finnish documentary film about a South African cultural phenomenon, directed and written by Malik Bendjelloul, which details the efforts in the late 1990s of two Cape Town fans, Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, to find out whether the rumoured death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez was true and, if not, to discover what had become of him. Rodriguez's music, which had never achieved success in the United States, had become very popular in South Africa although little was known about him in that country.
Initially using Super 8 film to record stylised shots for the film, director Malik Bendjelloul ran out of money for more film to record the final few shots. After three years of cutting-room work the main financial backers of the film threatened to withdraw funding to finish it. He resorted to filming the remaining stylised shots on his smartphone using an iPhoneapp called 8mm Vintage Camera.
Searching for Sugar Man was the opening film at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012, where it won the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best international documentary. It was released in the United Kingdom on 26 July 2012, and had a limited release (New York and Los Angeles) in the United States the following day.
Searching for Sugar Man performed well during its theatrical release, earning $3,696,196 at the US box office (47th of all US docs on Box Office Mojo).
Searching for Sugar Man has received widespread critical acclaim. The film holds a 94% rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 8/10, based on reviews from 127 critics. The site's critical consensus reads, "A fascinating portrait of a forgotten musical pioneer, Searching for Sugar Man is by turns informative and mysterious." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 79 out of 100 based on 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a glowing four-star review, writing "I hope you're able to see this film...and yes, it exists because we need for it to."The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis also wrote a positive review, calling the film "a hugely appealing documentary about fans, faith and an enigmatic Age of Aquarius musician who burned bright and hopeful before disappearing." Dargis subsequently named Searching for Sugar Man one of the 10 best films of 2012.
The film's narrative of a South African story about an American musician omits that Rodriguez was successful in Australia in the 1970s and toured there in 1979 and 1981. Because of this omission some critics have called the documentary "myth-making". However, the film focuses on his mysterious reputation in South Africa and the attempts of music historians there to track him down in the mid-1990s. South Africans were unaware of his Australian success due to the harsh censorship enacted by the apartheid regime coupled with international sanctions that made any communication with the outside world on the subject of banned artists virtually impossible.
Awards and nominations
Searching for Sugar Man won the Best Documentary category at the 85th Academy Awards. Rodriguez declined to attend the award ceremony as he did not want to overshadow the filmmakers' achievement if he came up on stage with them. Upon accepting his award, producer Simon Chinn remarked on such generosity, "That just about says everything about that man and his story that you want to know." However, Malik Bendjelloul also said on stage, "Thanks to one of the greatest singers ever, Rodriguez."
The Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking has nominated Searching for Sugar Man for five awards, tying with The Imposter for the most nominations. Winners of the 6th Annual Cinema Eye Honors will be announced on 9 January 2013 as Cinema Eye returns for a third year to New York City's Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, New York.
Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking--Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn
Graphic Design and Animation--Oskar Gullstrand, Arvid Steen
Searching for Sugar Man is a 2012 soundtrack album from the documentary containing a compilation of songs by Rodriguez from his two studio albums. It reached No. 3 in Sweden in early 2013 when the Academy Award nomination was announced, and had been in the charts for 26 weeks by the time it received the award in February 2013. In Denmark it reached No. 18 and in New Zealand it reached No. 24.