Sundance 2012: Sony unit buys ‘Searching for Sugar Man’


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The Sundance Film Festival has its first acquisition, with Sony Pictures Classics buying North American rights to ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ the buzzy documentary that premiered Thursday night at the festival.

Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary tells the unlikely story of Rodriguez, a Mexican American folk singer who was born in Detroit in the early 1940s and combined the swagger of Hendrix with the songwriting chops of Dylan. Rodriguez was all but ignored in this country, causing him to leave a recording career in favor of a blue-collar job and life.


But the singer’s recordings somehow found their way to South Africa, where he became an unlikely hero and pop icon, and the movie follows the tortuous path that he and his career took (which includes the odd fact that Rodriguez never even knew how popular he was in South Africa). Surprises abound in the movie’s second half, where a fan’s search for Rodriguez and what happened to his profits leads to a striking discovery we won’t reveal here.

As my colleague Julie Makinen noted, the screening on Thursday ‘left the audience at the movie’s premiere ... enthralled, with one man in the fourth row proclaiming the film ‘the best Sundance movie I’ve ever seen.’ ‘ The company said in a statement that it was an incredible story.’ It did not offer a release date.

The move marks the rare time when the first major sale is a documentary. Sony Pictures Classics had one of the only successful acquisitions at Sundance last year: The Irish cop comedy ‘The Guard’ has grossed more than $5 million at the box office.

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— Steven Zeitchik