Searching for Sugar Man

A musical genius rediscovered

Searching for Sugar Man


Written and directed by Malik Bendjelloul. With Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, Dennis Coffey, Mike Theodore, Dan DiMaggio, Jerome Ferretti, Steve Rowland, Willem Möller, Craig Bartholomew Strydom, Ilse Assmann, Steve M. Harris, Robbie Mann, Clarence Avant, Eva Rodriguez, Rodriguez, Regan Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy, Rick Emmerson, Rian Malan.

In the early 1970s, a Detroit musician named Sixto Rodriguez recorded a pair of Dylan-esque albums (Cold Fact and Coming from Reality) for the label Sussex Records. Despite the quality of the albums (Cold Fact received a rare four-star review in Billboard), they didn’t sell, and Rodriguez was dropped from the label and quickly faded into obscurity. 

Flash-forward a decade. Rodriguez’s records were long-forgotten in the US, but had somehow made their way to South Africa, and were enjoying an incredible level of success: the musician was outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. During the later years of Apartheid, Rodriguez had become a counter-culture hero. 

But who was this man? While they loved his music, nobody knew a thing about Rodriguez. Only a photograph on one of the albums gave fans an idea of what he looked like; only some brief liner notes gave any background on the musician. What happened to him? Rumors swirled that he was dead, that he had committed suicide by setting himself on fire. On stage. 

Searching for Sugar Man details how fans and amateur detectives attempted to track down the musician, to try to find out what happened to him. Record store owner Steven “Sugarman” Segerman encounters dead ends through the various record labels that put out his albums internationally. Where did the money go? The film raises this question, too, which remains frustratingly unanswered. 

The net offers little information, either, so Segerman sets up a web page. One day, the information comes to him. 

What unfolds, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling: this is the kind of feel-good story so good that it must be true. Searching for Sugar Man is the reason we go to the movies: it’s purely magic, the kind of film that heals your soul and restores your faith in humanity. I defy anyone to watch this movie and not walk away inspired. 

If there’s one criticism of the film out there, it’s that the film may bend the facts in order to create a more compelling storyline. Those that hold documentaries to standards of 100% accuracy and objectivity may not be fully satisfied by the way director Malik Bendjelloul tells this story. For the rest of us, this is simply compelling filmmaking. 

And if nothing else, Searching for Sugar Man introduced me to a musician that had unjustly faded into obscurity; Sugar Man, Crucify Your Mind, and I Wonder have immediately entered my eternal playlist. (Interestingly enough, I just knew I had heard Sugar Man before – yep, it was memorably used in the film Candy, starring Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish.) 

But Sugar Man is so much more than that: this is a film I can recommend (and have kept recommending) to anyone, regardless of cinematic tastes. Uplifting, inspiring, and completely engaging (and filled with Rodriguez’s wonderful music throughout), it’s one of the best films of the year (and deservedly won Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars). 

Note: Searching for Sugar Man is receiving an extremely limited release in Prague, with a single screening daily at Světozor (and a couple screenings at Oko and Aero) over the next couple weeks. I urge you to see it with an audience – you won’t be sorry you did.

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