Film : Searching for Sugar Man at TFF

The artist known as Rodriguez sold a half million albums in South Africa, so it’s no surprise some call him the “South African Elvis.” American music industry veterans put him on par with the likes of Bob Dylan as one of the greatest songwriters at the dawn of the 1970s. Meanwhile his folk rock music went largely snubbed by Americans at the time of its release.

Despite his mega-fame in South Africa, the fans there knew little about him. After his second album release, his quick disappearance fueled wild rumors. By most accounts, he committed suicide on stage at a concert that turned sour. Other things that add to his air of mystery: he recorded songs, even within the same album, under different names, including Sixto Rodriguez and Jesus Rodriguez. In every single photograph of him, he wore shades. He reportedly turned his back to audiences at his performances.

It was this mystery that sparked two fans to hunt down the story of Rodriguez. Searching for Sugar Man, directed by Mailk Benjelloul, follows their quest. I caught the Tribeca Film Festival screening Tuesday night, and the Q&A afterwards would read more like a love letter to Rodriguez than a series of questions about the film. The film, too, was a kind of love letter to the music that was almost lost. This film gives one last gasp to his albums, currently re-released on light in the attic records. Will Americans finally pay attention to Rodriguez? For those who see the film, I’m betting they will.

View the trailer:

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