Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, whose documentary on American folk singer and musician Sixto Rodriguez, Searching for Sugar Man[+], won the 2013 Oscar for Best Documentary, was found dead in Stockholm on Tuesday (12 May), aged 36. According to the Solna Police, there was no crime involved.
A child actor in the Swedish television series Ebba and Didrik (1990), Bendjelloul studied journalism and media production at Kalmar University; he was then a reporter on SVT’sKobra show, when he decided to travel the world. During one of his voyages, he learned about Rodriquez.
IMDb lists him as having eight credits, all for the one film – from director to miscellaneous crew. In the end, he also financed it: after he had been editing for three years and 90% of the film was ready, his main investor pulled out, so he had to spend his savings and borrow from friends.
Searching for Sugar Man depicts the life of the Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez, unknown in his homeland, who sold more records than The Rolling Stones in South Africa, where he became a pop-music icon and an inspiration for generations. He had allegedly committed suicide, but news reports were not consistent. So, 20 years later, the film follows a South African journalist and a fan as they work together to uncover the truth; the movie features interviews with his daughters and much of his recorded music.
Produced by Bendjelloul (with Simon Chinn), Searching for Sugar Man not only received the Academy Award, but 31 other international prizes, including three at Sundance, a British BAFTA and a Guldbagge – Sweden’s national film prize – for Best Documentary.
At the time of his death, Bendjelloul was working on a documentary following the life of South African wildlife conservationist Lawrence Anthony, also known as the “Elephant Whisperer” – the man who could talk to elephants. Allegedly, after his death in 2012, a group of wild elephants that he had helped to rescue walked up to his home and stood in vigil for two days before disappearing.