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‘Searching for Sugar Man’ filmmaker dies at 36

© AFP file picture

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-14

Malik Bendjelloul, the Swedish director who shot to international stardom for his Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”, has died. He was 36.

Police spokeswoman Pia Glenvik said Bendjelloul had died in Stockholm late on Tuesday, but declined to give any details of where his body was found or the cause of death.

She said there were no suspicions that any crime had been committed.

In an interview with Swedish daily Aftonbladet on Wednesday, his older brother, Johar Bendjelloul, said the filmmaker had committed suicide.

“He had been depressed for a short period of time,” he said, but would not elaborate on the issue.

Searching for Sugar Man”, which tells the story of how Mexican-American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez became a superstar in South Africa without knowing it, won the Oscar for best documentary in 2013. It was the first time a Swedish film had won an Oscar since Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” in 1984.

The film also won several other prizes, including a British BAFTA for best documentary and the Swedish Guldbagge award.

Bendjelloul came across details about Rodriguez during a trip to Cape Town and decided to tell his story.

The Detroit construction worker had disappeared from public life after his albums flopped in the United States in the 1970s. But although his records failed to take off at home, a bootleg copy made it to South Africa where it struck a chord with progressive young whites exasperated with the apartheid system and Rodriguez gained a massive following.

The singer's South African fans came to believe that Rodriguez had died a bitter death, but it wasn’t until after the end of the apartheid regime and the advent of the Internet that the truth was revealed. The film follows the quest of two South African fans to determine Rodriguez’s fate. They found him living in obscurity and working on construction sites in Detroit, and brought him to South Africa for a triumphant concert tour.

“I had never heard anything close to this in terms of the emotional content and the spectacular way things evolved. My jaw just dropped,” Bendjelloul told The Hollywood Reporter after winning the Oscar.

One of Sweden’s ‘most exciting filmmakers'

The Oscar win for Best Documentary led to yet another career rebirth for Rodriguez, who has been touring major venues in the US and introducing American audiences to the songs he wrote four decades ago.

Rodriguez was performing Tuesday night in Detroit, but his manager said he wouldn’t be making a comment on Bendjelloul’s death.

Sony Pictures Classics, the distributor of “Searching for Sugar Man, said in a statement, "We are so sad to hear of Malik Bendjelloul’s passing,” adding, “Much like Rodriguez himself, Malik was a genuine person who chased the world for stories to tell”.

Bendjelloul worked as a reporter for Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT before resigning to backpack around the world. He got the idea for “Searching for Sugar Man” – his first feature film – during one of his trips, but it would take him more than four years to finish the film due to financial constraints.

He completed the film by shooting the final parts with his smartphone and making his own animations.

Bendjelloul’s death came as a shock to many in the close-knit Swedish film community.

“This terrible news has put us all in a state of shock,” Swedish Film Institute spokesman Jan Goransson said.

“Bendjelloul was one of our most exciting filmmakers, of which last year's Oscar award was clear proof,” he said.

Prior to his death, Bendjelloul had said he was working on a film about a man who could communicate with elephants.


Date created : 2014-05-14


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