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Sugar Man wins best documentary Oscar

25 February 2013

The documentary Searching for Sugar Man, the chronicle of a forgotten musician and his rediscovery, has bagged the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

The 85th Academy Awards took place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, with host Seth MacFarlane.

The other nominees in the Best Documentary category were 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague and The Invisible War.

While accepting the award, which was presented by filmmaker Ben Affleck, producer Simon Chinn told the Oscars audience that Rodriguez was not there to accept the award because he did not want to take any of the credit for the film.

"That just about says everything about that man and his story that you want to know," he said - before being unceremoniously played off the stage.

Voting in the documentary category was overhauled this year to limit the nomination of obscure films, and ensure that a larger group of documentary filmmakers winnowed the nominees.

The film, directed by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, follows the efforts of two fans from Cape Town to find Rodriguez.

The Mexican-American singer, obscure in his own country, knew nothing of his extraordinary fame in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. Rumour and speculation was rife regarding his disappearance from the music scene, with many believing he had committed suicide on stage.

Rodriguez was first "discovered" in a Detroit bar in 1968. His debut album, Cold Fact, was a commercial flop in the United States. But a bootleg copy made its way to South Africa in the early 1970s and became an instant success with people variously opposed to, or out of tune with, the apartheid regime.

"In typical response, the reactionary government banned the record, ensuring no radio play, which only served to further fuel its cult status," it says on the Sugar Man website.

"Over the next two decades, Rodriguez became a household name in the country and Cold Fact went platinum."

Much of the movie was filmed in Cape Town, and the city's tourism chief executive officer, Mariëtte Du Toit-Helmbold, says: "The documentary is a great showcase of Cape Town’s most iconic landmarks like Table Mountain, Lion's Head, Camps Bay, the cityscape and the ocean road alongside the Twelve Apostles.

"Viewers are transported to a beautiful Cape Town - a city where inspirational and soulful people work and play. Searching for Sugar Man is putting Cape Town firmly in the hearts and minds of filmgoers across the world."

Released in 2012, the film won Best Documentary at the 2013 Bafta awards, as well as critical acclaim with the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for Best International Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival 2012.

This article was first published by the Gauteng Film Commission. Republished on SAinfo with kind permission.

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