Thursday, 15 May 2014

A Brilliant Storyteller Gone

Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul took his own life at 36
I don't watch many movies but prefer documentaries and absolutely loved Searching for Sugar Man last year.

It was an interesting story about two South African journalists trying to track down American musician Sixto Rodriguez who somehow disappeared, but gained popularity in South Africa.

The documentary won an Oscar last year, the first Swedish film to win an Academy Award since Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander in 1984.

Bendjelloul helped revive Sixto Rodriguez's career, now 71
Not only did it win lots of accolades including audience and special jury awards at the Sundance Film Festival, but also helped revive Rodriguez's career, now 71.

So it was shocking to discover that the director of the film, Malik Bendjelloul, 36. committed suicide on Tuesday in Stockholm.

Initial reports said the director was found dead, and later his brother Johar said, "I can confirm my brother has taken his own life and that he had been depressed for a short period of time. Life is not always so easy... it's the worst. I don't know how to handle it."

Sony Pictures Classics, the film's distributor released a statement: "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."

Bendjelloul had experience doing documentaries, having done ones for TV on Elton John, Rod Stewart and Bjork.

The young director accepting the Academy Award last year
He also worked as a reporter for Sweden's public broadcaster SVT and then resigned in order to backpack around the world. It was when he traveled did he find out about Rodriguez and got the idea for Searching for Sugar Man.

However it took Bendjelloul four years to make the film. When the film was 90 percent done, having edited it for three years, the main sponsor withdrew support. Having used all his savings and borrowed money from friends, he stopped working on the movie just to make ends meet.

In the end he finally completed the film by shooting the final parts with his smartphone and doing his own animation that is in the documentary.

After the Oscar win, Bendjelloul went on a safari and was apparently working on his next film about a man who communicates with elephants.

That would have been another amazing story... but no more.

Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas, who accompanied Bendjelloul to the Oscars, described him as a modest, but determined man.

The documentary received numerous international accolades
"He was an incredibly talented storyteller," Pallas wrote. "He had the strength of a marathon runner, to work on his film for so many years and sometimes without money, then you have a goal."

We may never know why Bendjelloul decided to end it all, and it is so sad to have such great talent gone. But we are grateful he told us about Rodriguez with such passion.

Bendjelloul was a true artist, staying focused on his goal despite the adverse challenges he faced. When you watch Searching for Sugar Man, you can see it was a labour of love, and also it was too good a story to resist not telling.

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