In 1970, a Detroit-based singer-songwriter who went by the one-name moniker Rodriguez released an album titled “Cold Fact.” A collection of frank, politically minded folk songs, the record earned favorable comparisons to the work of Bob Dylan and stellar reviews -- Billboard gave it four stars. Despite the acclaim, it was a commercial failure. A follow-up, “Coming From Reality,” suffered a similar fate. Rodriguez was dropped from his label and faded into obscurity.
Except in South Africa.
Half a world away, “Cold Fact” slowly amassed a cult following, and in the unlikeliest of events, protest music penned by a poor, inner-city Mexican American poet became a cultural touch-point for a young generation of white liberals disillusioned by the repressive policies of South African apartheid. Rodriguez’s fans knew little about him, however -- only that he had committed suicide onstage during a concert performance.
The documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” which screens Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live as part of The Times-sponsored Los Angeles Film Festival, follows the efforts of two South African fans -- one, a former jeweler-turned-record store owner, the other a journalist -- to uncover the truth about the mysterious performer who, as people in the film say, was “bigger than the Rolling Stones.”
The stranger-than-fiction tale of how an artist could become a superstar in one country while remaining a complete unknown elsewhere fascinated first-time feature filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, a Stockholm-based television director and producer who stumbled across the story during a six-month research expedition in 2006.