Arts, Culture & Media

Remembering Malik Bendjelloul, director of 'Searching for the Sugar Man'

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Swedish Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, director of "Searching for Sugar Man," died on May 13, 2014.

Credit:

REUTERS:Anders Wiklund

Malik Bendjelloul, a freelance filmmaker from Sweden who shot to fame almost overnight with his Oscar-winning documentary, "Searching for Sugar Man," died Tuesday.

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The documentary is about singer Sixto Rodriguez — a Detroit-based musician who never managed to become popular in the US, but was a superstar in South Africa, without knowing it.

Tuesday night, Malik Bendjelloul died at the age of 36.

Reporter Betto Arcos once met the filmmaker and asked what made this half-Algerian, half-Swedish 30-something become obsessed with a Mexican-American folk singer who never got his due? 

"He was looking for a subject for his next project," Arcos said. "He saved up his money and traveled the world. And it was in Cape Town, South Africa, where Bendjelloul came across the story of Sixto Rodriguez."

The musician was as famous in South Africa as, say, the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. But Bendjelloul was dubious. So he decided to find out himself.

He asked random people on the streets of Cape Town whether they knew of Rodriguez.

And they told him, "What do you mean? Of course ... It's like asking me if I've seen Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles."

When the documentarian listened to Rodriguez, he thought, "Oh, my God, he really is one of the lost masterpieces of our time."    

Bendjellou, said Arcos, was "the most humble, yet very passionate person and you could sense that he [Bendjelloul] was really respectful of Rodriguez's life and what he became."

Update: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Malik Bendjelloul's name. We regret the error.