NZFF: Searching for Sugar Man

SARAH WATT
Last updated 10:48 23/07/2012
Searching for Sugarman
HAL WILSON

TRUE TALE: Searching for Sugarman has all the elements of waht a great documentary should be.

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REVIEW: They said the less you know about this film, the better - and they were right.

Searching for Sugar Man is exactly what a great documentary should be: a story about someone you've never heard of, doing something they never dreamed of, and becoming a legend in a country they'd never even thought of. The adage "truth is stranger than fiction" was written for a tale like this.

As the opening titles roll, a soulful voice with sentiments like Bob Dylan and a tone like treacle draws us in.  Turns out there was a folk/blues/country-style singer in Detroit in the late 1960s and early 1970s who played a few clubs, made a couple of albums, but no-one in America ever heard of him, and he disappeared without a trace. "It's a shame," you find yourself thinking, "because this guy can really sing."

Rodriguez may have been just another cassette in the bargain bin, were it not for an extraordinary chain of events that saw his music becoming anthemic a decade later for the people of oppressed, apartheid South Africa. Halfway across the world, in the country least likely to create and propogate thoughtful, passionate, anti-establishment feeling (not legally, at any rate), the mystery of Rodriguez grew him to cult status. 

But who was he, and did he know he was popular in South Africa? Was he even alive anymore? Rumours of melodramatic suicides on stage captured the public's imagination as his music entranced its soul. And so, one man set off on an investigation to find the folk hero.

What follows is a truly extraordinary tale of an ordinary man with a sensational voice and an inspirational humility. Not only did it convert me to a genre of music I've never liked (true to the legend, when I told my SA friend about the film, she produced the Cold Fact CD for me to borrow) but it left the whole audience in awe of how affecting remarkable true stories can be. 

I cannot recommend this fine documentary more highly. Go find him for yourself.

* Sarah Watt is the Sunday Star Times film reviewer. Read her blog here.

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