After fighting so hard for it that he barely could pay for food at one point, director Malik Bendjelloul managed not only to complete his first feature but also win an Oscar. An unlikely success story, just like the one about Sixto Rodriguez, an early-70s folk singer in Detroit who released a couple of albums to critical acclaim but never broke through… except in South Africa where he became an anti-Apartheid star without knowing about it. The filmmakers deliberately downplay the fact that Rodriguez never was as obscure as legend would have it, but this is nevertheless an amazing, heartwarming story about a shy, generous and talented musician. Bendjelloul builds the story solidly, even using animation at times, and contrasts chilly Detroit and sunny Cape Town in effective ways.
2012-Sweden-Britain. 86 min. Color. Produced by Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn. Written, directed and edited by Malik Bendjelloul. Cinematography: Camilla Skagerström.
Oscar: Best Documentary Feature. BAFTA: Best Documentary.
Last word: “Before I met Rodriguez I met the other guys involved – the detectives and the producers – and they told me things about Rodriguez that made him almost sound like a mythological character. Like is this really for real? They were talking about him as this shadow, as this drifter – this mystery. Which for a filmmaker makes things exciting. Then you know you have something extraordinary to play with. In the end, everyone is flesh and blood, and of course Rodriguez was flesh and blood, but I understand what they were talking about when they described him that way. He had this kind of integrity and privacy around him that made him impenetrable in a way. You sometimes think I want to know everything and he should tell me everything and just spill out his heart, and Rodriguez didn’t do that, and I think that was beautiful. I think that’s an important part of the story and an important part of this film, really.” (Bendjelloul, The Fader)