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Search for Sugar is so sweet

Searching for Sugarman

Documentary. Featuring Steve ‘Sugar' Segerman, Craig Bartholomew, Sixto Rodriguez, Dennis Coffey. Directed by Malik Bendjelloul. Cert General

It's surely no coincidence that the IFI's upcoming season of documentaries goes under the banner ‘Stranger Than Fiction' and coincides with the general release of this fascinating film. Caped vigilantes tracking down nuclear devices? Pah! Space missions seeking the origins of mankind? Ha'penny place mate compared to what awaits you in Searching for Sugar Man.

The search for the ‘sugar man' of the title refers to an obscure Detroit musician called Rodriguez, who released two albums in the early 1970s which bombed in his native country and barely secured a release in Europe.

Easy on the ear in the manner of a more political and quasi-psychedelic James Taylor, a mission to discover what became of this mysterious second-generation Mexican sounds more like a task a geeky fanboy would set themselves rather than the subject of a documentary.

Until, that is, the story opens out and we discover that Rodriguez was something of a superstar in South Africa.

Unbeknownst to him, his 1970 debut album Cold Fact was a staple of many a white South African liberal's record collection for that decade and beyond.

Together, his records sold in excess of half a million copies, a fact of which he was completely unaware and, needless to say, he never received a cent in royalties.

Rumours abounded that he'd committed suicide on stage, by shooting or self-immolation depending on who was telling the story, or had died of a drugs overdose in prison, so in the early 1990s a couple of South African fans set about discovering the truth and that leads us into this amazing story.

Of course, most of the work done by Steve ‘Sugar' Segerman and Craig Bartholomew was in pre-internet days and so may seem strange and frankly unbelievable to a generation who've grown up with Google.

Even so, the tale is so incredible that I was certainly veering towards agreeing with the South African journalist who at one point says: "This is too strange to be true" and wondering at times whether director Malik Bendjelloul had constructed an elaborate and masterful hoax.

But no, it turns out that it is possible for someone to disappear off the radar and drop out of the music business yet become a superstar on the other side of the world without even knowing about it. Truly, stranger than fiction.


Drama. Starring Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride, Hilary O'Shaughnessy, Andrew Bennett, Jens K Muller, Patrick O'Connor. Directed by Pat Collins. Cert General

Irish film-makers haven't exactly got a great track record when it comes to cracking the codes of arthouse cinema, although Pat Collins gives it a decent shot here.

Silence traces the journey of an introspective, if not downright mopey, sound recordist Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride, who co-wrote the screenplay) as he leaves Berlin for Ireland on some vague quest to find the quietest place he can.

We're never quite sure what his motivations for this trek are — I'm sure he was explaining his reasons to a woman in Berlin, but the conversation is drowned out by a passing train, very arty indeed — and so it's up to the viewer to guess through a series of encounters with various characters.

We learn that he hasn't been back home for 15 years, but know very little else about him and as he wanders around desolate but stunningly beautiful landscapes, the irritation with the film grows ever more pronounced.

There are elements of Silence which are extremely impressive. The cinematography and scenery are at times sublime in a Terrence Malick-goes-to-Donegal way and the superb sound recording (by John Brennan and Eamon Little) acts almost as a character in itself.

Ultimately though, this is a frustrating exercise which can't avoid a headlong dive into pretension (really, there are only so many philosophical musings on silence and quietness one can take before screaming for the director to get the hell on with it) and the ending may leave many of you feeling quite angry indeed.

Still, the last sound Pat Collins leaves us with is the timeless beauty of Sandy Denny singing Who Knows Where the Time Goes?, so you haven't completely wasted 80-odd minutes of your life.