Written and Directed by Malik Bendjelloul

Searching for Sugarman, the story of Sixto Rodriquez, sold out at the Traverse City Film Festival long before I got through on the phone line and long before the online system opened. Although other screenings were added, they sold out as well. But now it’s had a local release in Detroit.

Its local connections pretty much assured this because Rodruquez’ is a Detroit story in so many ways. The streets are gritty—even the ones from a generation ago—the story is tragic, the music is thrilling, the people are genuine. Athough he is Mexican rather than black, his outsider status eventually spoke to people of color half a world away.

PLOT: Sixto Rodriquez rose and fell in a blink of an eye. His family came to the U.S. from Mexico in the twenties and he was born in 1942. In 1967, he released the single “I’ll Slip Away” through a small label. Three years later, after mostly singing in local Detroit bars, he was signed to Sussex Records and changed his professional name to Rodriguez. Rodriguez recorded two albums with Sussex—Cold Fact in 1970, and Coming from Reality in 1971. The albums went nowhere and he dropped out of sight soon after this. The record company folded. He disappeared so completely that even local music scene insiders could not identify him. He ceased to exist for almost everyone.

But through some strange alchemy, his albums turned up in South Africa during the years of apartheid. His music spoke to the struggle going on there. His albums released by Stephen Segerman in Cape Town sold half a million copies, a huge number for a small country. The rumor was Rodriquez was dead, a suicide on a Detroit street perhaps. Only his music remained.

Segerman becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about Rodriquez and Bendjelloul follows Segerman on his search. Years go by before anything consequential turns up. It’s frustrating in the days of the Internet and connectivity to be able to find out nothing about a man who had made a mark, albeit not much of one in his own country.

To say anything more about Segerman’s quest would ruin an excellent movie.

Highly recommended.

Be sure to stop by to check out Forgotten Books every Friday as well as other thoughts, comments and reviews. A collection of her stories, Monkey Justice (Snubnose Press) can be found on Amazon