Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, who won the Best Documentary Feature in the 2013 Oscars for Searching for Sugar Man, died today at age 36. According to Daily Mail, police told the Associated Press that Bendjelloul passed away in Stockholm, Sweden, on Tuesday. The cause of death is not revealed yet due to privacy reasons, and police spokeswoman Pia Glenvik said that there is no crime or foul play involved in the director’s death.
Bendjelloul was born and raised in Sweden to an Algerian father, who was a doctor, and a Swedish mother, who worked as a painter. In the 1990s, he was a child actor who played the character Philip Clavelle in the Swedish TV series Ebba and Didrik, a story about a young brother and sister growing up in a small, modern Swedish town. After he had studied journalism and filmmaking at the Linnaeus University of Kalmar in southern Sweden, he worked as a journalist for SVT, a Swedish public broadcaster. After Bendjelloul quit his job, he got the inspiration and idea for Searching for Sugar Man while traveling in South Africa in 2006, according to the New York Times The film went on to win the 2013 Oscar for Best Documentary.
The film portrayed the life and music career of Sixto Rodriguez, an American musician from Detroit, Michigan, who had less than 15 minutes of fame when he first started. His first two albums tanked in the 1970s and never made any royalties. He labored for decades at a near-poverty level while raising three daughters. Eventually, two South Africans – former jeweler and fan, Stephen Segerman, and journalist Craig Bartholomew, tracked Rodriguez down on the Internet in 1998 and brought him to perform in South Africa, according to the fan site Sugarman.com. With a huge number of South African fans, tours, and concerts, Rodriguez’s music career revived in the late 1990s. His music may have died in the U.S., but his sudden fame and story attracted the future Oscar-winning director Bendjelloul, who was searching for the “sugar man.”
Bendjelloul said in an interview with The Independent that this was the best story he found in his backpacking trips. It was his perfect story that covered “the human element, the music aspect, a resurrection and a detective story.” Searching for Sugar Man was Bendjelloul’s first feature-length film, and the director did not think the story could be told in a short film format. This story was not just one story, but multiple stories. There were elements of apartheid, Cinderella, and detective that could only be told in a feature-length film. The name “sugar man” in the film title refers to the song, Sugar Man, on Rodriguez’s first album, Cold Fact.
Bendjelloul’s film has given Rodriguez fans more exposure to his music and his story in the musician’s own country. The Oscar-winning director may have died, but his masterpiece, Searching for Sugar Man, and his name, Malik Bendjelloul, will be remembered for generations.
By Nick Ng
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