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‘Searching for Sugar Man’ director dies

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Published : 2014-05-14 20:25
Updated : 2014-05-14 20:25

STOCKHOLM (AP) ― Malik Bendjelloul, the cash-strapped freelance film maker who shot to Hollywood stardom overnight with the Oscar-winning music documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” has died. He was 36.

Swedish police spokeswoman Pia Glenvik told the Associated Press that Bendjelloul died in Stockholm late Tuesday, but wouldn’t specify where his body was found or the cause of death.

She said no crime is suspected in relation to the filmmaker’s death.

“Searching for Sugar Man,” which tells the story of how American singer Sixto Rodriguez became a superstar in South Africa without knowing about it, won the Oscar for best documentary in 2013. It was the first time a Swedish film had won an Oscar since Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander’’ in 1984.

The film also won several other prizes, including a British BAFTA for best documentary and the Swedish Guldbagge award.

Bendjelloul came across the story about Rodriguez, who had disappeared from public life in the U.S. but developed an unlikely cult following among white liberals in South Africa, during a trip to Cape Town.

“I had never heard anything close to this in terms of the emotional content and the spectacular way things evolved. My jaw just dropped,’’ Bendjelloul told The Hollywood Reporter after winning the Oscar.

The soft-spoken, unassuming Bendjelloul worked as a reporter for Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT before resigning to backpack around the world. He got the idea for “Searching for Sugar Man” ― his first feature film ― during one of his trips, but it would take him more than four years to complete the film.

Bendjelloul later recalled that when the film was 90 percent finished, after he had been editing it for three years, the main sponsor said the film was lousy and withdrew support.

At this stage he had already used up all his savings and borrowed money from friends, so he stopped working on the movie and took other jobs to make ends meet. In the end, he completed the film by shooting the final parts with his smartphone and making his own animations.

Bendjelloul was born in 1977 to Swedish translator Veronica Schildt Bendjelloul and doctor Hacene Bendjelloul and acted in the Swedish TV series “Ebba and Didrik” as a child during the 1990s. He studied journalism and media production at the Linnaeus University of Kalmar in southern Sweden before joining SVT where he worked as a reporter on the culture program “Kobra.”

Bendjelloul’s death came as a shock to many in the close-knit Swedish film community.

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