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Police spokeswoman Pia Glenvik told the Associated Press that the Swedish filmmaker died in Stockholm late Tuesday, but wouldn’t specify the cause of death. No foul play was suspected.
A big hit at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival that was quickly snapped up for mid-six figures by Sony Pictures Classics, Searching for Sugar Man detailed the efforts in the late 1990s of two fans of American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez in Cape Town, South Africa, as they tried to get to the bottom of the musician’s rumored death.
Rodriguez’s soulful music from the early 1970s had gone unnoticed in the U.S., but bootlegged copies of his two albums had become enormously popular in South Africa. The Mexican-American musician from Detroit, as it turns out, was very much alive.
“We are so sad to hear of Malik Bendjelloul’s passing. Our hearts go out to his family and friends,” Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, co-presidents of Sony Pictures Classics, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement on Tuesday.
“We first met Malik at the Sundance Film Festival for Searching for Sugarman. Much like Rodriguez himself, Malik was a genuine person who chased the world for stories to tell. He didn’t chase fame, fortune or awards, although those accolades still found him as many others recognized his storytelling.”
Born and raised in Sweden, Bendjelloul was at age 10 cast in a TV series directed by his uncle. He went on to study at a media college, then began making documentary shorts for Swedish National Television that featured interviews with musicians.
In 2006, Bendjelloul quit his job and took off with a camera to go backpacking around Africa, looking for stories around which he might make a film of his own. In Cape Town, he met Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, who told him about his quest to find out what happened to Rodriguez.
“I was like, ‘This is a really good story, actually. It’s not just a random story,'” Bendjelloul told THR‘s Scott Feinberg in a February 2013 interview. “I retold the story to friends, and they were like, ‘This is the best story we’ve ever heard. It’s like a fairy tale.'”
The project — first envisioned as a seven-minute piece for Swedish TV — took four years, beginning in 2008, to become a feature.
Bendjelloul and co-producer Simon Chinn accepted the Oscar in 2013 for best feature documentary, and the film also won awards from BAFTA, the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, among others.
Watch highlights from Rodriguez and Bendjelloul’s visit to THR in 2013 below.
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