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Q&A: Talking “Searching For Sugar Man” With Rodriguez and Malik Bendjelloul + Exclusive Clip

By Bailey Pennick; Featured Photo By Hal Wilson, Other Courtesy Of Rodriguez on February 6, 2013


Q&A: Talking “Searching For Sugar Man” With Rodriguez and Malik Bendjelloul + Exclusive Clip


If you put your love out into the universe, the universe will give it back to you tenfold. This is the underlying trust in the universe—and their art—that ultimately brought Swedish television journalist Malik Bendjelloul and Detroit folk singer Rodriguez together. The result is a collaboration nominated for an Academy Award.


Searching For Sugar Man, Bendjelloul’s first venture into feature-length documentaries follows the unbelievable (literally) true story of Rodriguez’s incredible career: the man, the music, the myth. As a ‘70s singer/songwriter who was critically acclaimed, but completely overlooked in the US, Rodriguez’s incredibly melodic and socially conscious songs found their way into South Africa at the height of Apartheid and spread throughout the oppressed like wildfire. Rodriguez became the symbol for hope and justice in the country, surpassing artists like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones in popularity and influence, but remained a complete mystery. (This was before Google and Wikipedia remember!)

FILTER caught up with the pair about life after obscurity, the immense power of music and what it feels like to be nominated for an Oscar.

Check out an exclusive clip of Searching For Sugar Man aptly titled “Too Good to be True” below!




Talking Socks With Rodriguez

I saw your film and your story was fantastic!

Why thank you, I did all my own stunts in this film! And it was just nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary so I am very pleased with Malik. I’m very proud of him! He creates a suspense in the film and he resolves it. He’s a great journalist and he did his research.

How did it feel to see your family and your old colleagues being interviewed in the film?

Okay, I’m glad you asked that because I didn’t have anything to do with who he chose, who he interviewed or what they said. I had no control; he did it all! He found the people and asked them and found people who I worked with. I didn’t have anything to do with it which is why all of these awards are really Malik’s.

Have you seen a huge change in your day to day life since the release of the film?

I’m going to answer your question with a philosophical construct: you have a sock of one color and it gets a hole, so you patch it up with a thread of a different color. Finally it gets so many holes that you’ve sewn the entire sock up with threads of different colors. So the question is, is it the same sock? There’s no real answer to it, it’s just something to think on, but I can answer for me. I’m not the same sock. I’ve transformed into something else. I did the Letterman show with a 25 piece orchestra, this kind of stuff… I’ve done 60 minutes! I’m going to go back to South Africa and they are going to come with me. Tickets have all sold out! So am I the same sock? I am not!


I think that the core of the sock is the same, but the colors are just different.

Yeah, I think that’s true too. I think that our lives are all in flux. Everyone wants things to be concrete and constant, but that’s not the way our lives are. We seek permanence, but everything is already moving around. In the meantime, music helps us get through it all.

Definitely! Who influences you musically?

Girls [laughs]! We do music for reasons like this. We do it for the girls, we do it for the money and we do it for the recognition, the rock and roll history. We do music because it’s fun and because it’s a pleasure.

It’s not a spectator sport! You can dance to it; you can sing to it, you can have an instrument play with it. It’s a living art. It’s recreated on stage with different instruments.

I feel that when someone starts to learn music--any instrument or singing or whatever--that they are recreating all of music because its going through them.



Crossing Cultures With Malik Bendjelloul

How does it feel to be nominated for an Oscar?

It feels strange! It’s wonderful, but such a surreal thing. I haven’t had time to let it get into me, because at the first moment it’s like Wow! But then the next moment it’s interviews and going to I have to be smart! And I have to say something smart! You have to think when you’re doing interviews, you have to be truly in the moment. It’s wonderful, but I haven’t really addressed it yet.

What is it like as a Swede, making a movie about an American musician who is incredibly famous in South Africa?

It started out as this random thing in South Africa and, you know, this story has already been covered by journalists in South Africa. That was one of the reasons that the story was pretty amazing, that Rodriguez was already so famous—almost too famous in South Africa. Everyone already knows him and everything there. They were like, "Why are you doing a documentary about Rodriguez? We already know about him already!" But everyone else in the world didn’t know about him and that was what was so great. I was kind of in between.

Was there any sort of cultural blocks that you encountered in making this film?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it was easy, Rodriguez for example is a very private man who doesn’t like the camera—he still doesn’t like the camera. The first time I went to talk to him, I only got like 15 minutes of footage and I was there for a week! But I went back every year and got 15 more minutes, for four years. That was finally enough. F

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