As we all know by now Searching for Sugarman won an Oscar last night! We’re so, so pleased and think this accolade is richly deserved for a story that’s so close to the hearts of South Africans.
We did some digging and found an article from August 2012, in The New Yorker about the documentary and the man himself, Sixto Rodriguez.
Here’s an interview excerpt from the article.
You said you were taking tips, looking for stories, when you found out about Rodriguez.
I had been working for Swedish National TV, the SVT, on something called “Cobra,” an arts and cultural show that did stories like you’d find in The New Yorker. But in 2006, I quit and went backpacking, looking for stories with a camera. In six months, I went to sixteen countries: Ethiopia, all the countries in Central America, and a few countries in South America. I went to many places. I found quite a few pretty good stories, but this was the one I was like, “Wow, this is like a fairy tale, this is scripted, this sounds too good to be true.” I fell in love, very, very much. I’d never spent more than four weeks on story before, and I spent four years on this. Normally, I get a salary when I work. I didn’t get any salary for four years.
You sacrificed a lot for this movie.
It was very hard to finance, it really was. The music and the illustrations and the editing was done by myself, but it wasn’t on purpose. I don’t think you should do that. I think you should collaborate with professionals, but I couldn’t because I didn’t get any funding. I borrowed money from friends and family. I didn’t really buy clothes for the last two years.
Is anybody working on that trail of money that Rodriguez hasn’t seen?
Rodriguez today still sells gold in South Africa—only in the last five years he sold another gold disc, but that money does not go to Clarence Avant. It goes to another company in England, and someone should investigate what happens with that money. I spoke to a South African lawyer who solved the case of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and he said, “Sure, we can solve this, but it will take three years and we will need some money because these things are difficult.”
I didn’t get too deep into what happens with Rodriguez’s record checks today, because the story is not really about money. We had a country during apartheid that was isolated, so we didn’t have any cultural exchange. The South African record labels didn’t search for him because they couldn’t bring him to South Africa anyway, it was a boycott. We had a guy who was living in a house without a telephone, which is not very common, and we had a time before the Internet, the third factor. I mean, there are a few factors that made this story happen and the money is only one of those factors, I think.
Have you figured out how many other people knew about this phenomenon?
We haven’t screened the film in South Africa, but there are South Africans that came to screenings. A South African told me, “Of course I knew all this already. I actually had this conversation with an American a few years ago.” He also said, “We were talking about something completely different, and I said, ‘That would be like the seventies without the Beatles, the Stones, and Rodriguez,’ and the American was like, ‘What did you just say?’ ” They talk about him in the same breath as those rock gods in South Africa.
Have people reached out to you that were part of that moment after the release of the movie?
There’s one story that’s pretty cool. In 1970, track number six on “Cold Fact” is called “Inner City Blues.” Next year, 1971, there’s an album by Marvin Gaye, called “What’s Goin’ On?,” released in Detroit. Track number nine is called “Inner City Blues.” On both those albums, you find the same guy, Bob Babbitt, an amazing bass player who just passed away two weeks ago. I called a year ago and asked him, “Is this a coincidence? Or did you tell Marvin Gaye the title of this completely unknown song?” He told me, and I think he was truthful, “I don’t remember anything. I don’t even remember Rodriguez.”
Go here to read the rest of the article.