Movie Article

The 'Sugar Man' Story: Rock Star Lost and Found

The new documentary Searching for Sugar Man traces the improbable journey of Sixto Rodriguez, an American folk musician who disappeared years ago — then returned to find himself a superstar in Africa

What's the best story you've ever heard? Swedish TV director Malik Bendjelloul spent six months traveling around the world asking people that question as he looked for filmmaking inspiration. In Cape Town, South Africa, he found a whopper of a true tale that he's now turned into a documentary, Searching for Sugar Man. The film (in theaters July 27) tells the story of a failed '70s Detroit musician, Sixto Rodriguez, who had no clue his music had become enormously popular in South Africa. Rodriguez's fans in that country actually thought he'd committed suicide on stage years ago. But after two South Africans tracked him down working construction jobs in Detroit in 1998, he flew to South Africa to perform — and was instantly transformed into a rock star. ''I mean, it's like a freaking fairy tale!'' says Bendjelloul.

When the director first approached Rodriguez about participating in the doc, the intensely private musician was wary. ''I was skeptical about the whole idea,'' says Rodriguez. ''I resisted. In the music industry there's a lot of casualties because of that kind of attention.'' But Bendjelloul eventually won him over with charm and enthusiasm. ''He felt that I was serious [about his story],'' says the filmmaker. ''And in a way he would also like this to happen, of course. If you make music you want people to hear it, and this might be a way to get his music heard.'' True enough: Sony is releasing a soundtrack album, and Rodriguez will soon tour the States. ''I'm enjoying every second of it,'' says the singer. ''Malik has done quite a remarkable thing. I'm a lucky man.''

Originally posted Jul 20, 2012 Published in issue #1217 Jul 27, 2012 Order article reprints