“The Swedish documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, who has died aged 36 after reportedly taking his own life, had only a single feature credit to his name, but it was a notable one,” writes Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian. “He wrote, directed, edited and co-produced the low-budget 2012 film Searching for Sugar Man, about the commercial rediscovery in South Africa of a forgotten folk musician. It won the Academy Award for best documentary, grossed $10m worldwide and could also claim to be the first Oscar-winning movie to have been shot partially on an iPhone.”
Patrick Frater reports for Variety that Bendjelloul’s family has indeed confirmed that it was suicide. Simon Chinn, who produced Sugar Man: “I saw him two weeks ago in London. He was so full of life, hope and optimism and happiness, and looking forward to the future and future collaborations. We were talking about working together and talking about specific ideas, so the idea that he is no longer is just too hard to process.”
“Bendjelloul was born into a Swedish-Algerian family in Ystad and was raised in nearby Ängelholm along with his older brother, TV and radio personality Johar Bendjelloul,” reports Ignatiy Vishnevetsky for the AV Club. After appearing on a TV series directed by his uncle, Peter Schildt, Bendjelloul studied journalism and went to work for the Swedish public broadcaster SVT. “It was through his work for the SVT program Kobra that Bendjelloul first came across the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a mysterious Detroit singer-songwriter whose two obscure albums had become cultural touchstones in South Africa. Bendjelloul poured his life savings into investigating Rodriguez’s story.”
The Guardian‘s Xan Brooks recalls seeing the director and his rediscovered star at the Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2012: “Bendjelloul and Rodriguez came as a package and the two men could scarcely have been more different. Having long since made his peace with failure, Rodriguez seemed dazed by the attention and appalled by the process, like a modern-day Kaspar Hauser dragged in front of high society. Bendjelloul, by contrast, was full of puppyish enthusiasm, talking nineteen to the dozen, utterly at home amid the crush of the festival. He was Rodriguez’s champion and spokesman. He knew full well that he had made a good film and was delighted to see that the world thought so too.”
Later that summer, Jonathan Marlow spoke with both of them for Keyframe. Adam Schartoff has posted a special episode of Filmwax Radio. And at Indiewire, Paula Bernstein has collected tributes and remembrances from those who knew and worked with Malik Bendjelloul.
Update, 6/12: “How could such a talented artist choose to take his life at the height of his creative powers, when anything seemed possible and probably was? And how did a positive, happy person fall into the depths of despair with almost no one being the wiser?” For the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Johnson travels to Sweden to investigate.