Starring: Stephen Segerman, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, Rodriguez
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
Running Time: 86 mins
Searching For Sugar Man is a documentary about the legend of mysterious musician Rodriguez, who, despite a failed career in the United States, was unknowingly a superstar in South Africa, where lifelong fans have spent years searching for him.
It’s films like this that prove the immeasurable worth of documentary film. Telling a story on the smallest, most personal of scales, Searching For Sugar Man isn’t the sort of thing that would be easily picked up by a big Hollywood studio. However, with almost unbelievable twists and turns as we follow the efforts of fans of Rodriguez to find the illusive musician, it packs an incredible punch, and stands as one of the most genuinely astonishing stories you’ll ever hear.
A run-of-the-mill documentary is there to inform or persuade you, meaning that despite often riveting and powerful stories, it’s not a genre that always provides the most thrilling watch. Searching For Sugar Man, however, manages to do both at the same time, all the while keeping its feet on the ground with a powerfully intimate emotional core.
On the one hand, the film works brilliantly as it tells the illusive legend of Rodriguez, from his humble beginnings in Detroit in the late 1960s to his unlikely stardom in South Africa – entirely unknown to him at the time. On the other hand, the story brings in a strong personal edge through interviews with many South Africans who, having been huge fans of the man in their youth, attempt to track down any information about him that they can.
With all of that, there’s so much about Searching For Sugar Man that makes it an absolutely fascinating watch. If you’re a music fan, it’s an opportunity to uncover one of the lost voices of Motown, and if you’re a fan of great stories, then what you learn through the discoveries of Rodriguez’s mysterious life are both exhilarating and humbling at the same time, showing a different side to the music industry that rarely makes it onto the big screen.
It may not be the most striking film from an artistic perspective, but director Malik Bendjelloul still does a brilliant job at bringing the emotion and sheer intrigue in this story to light so vividly throughout. It’s not the flashiest documentary, but by keeping its feet on the ground, all of the attention is poured into telling the absolutely incredible story.
And in short, that’s what you’ll take away from Searching For Sugar Man. It’s a short, sharp documentary, but with a story that’s full of exhilarating revelations and powerful emotion, as well as intriguing mystery and humbling human drama to boot, it’s one of the most memorable and engrossing documentaries you’ll see, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.1 overall.