Rodriguez Does Sundance – Day 1 – Part II

I climb on the shuttle from the Salt Lake City airport to the homebase of Sundance in Park City. So far it’s not as cold as I expected but imagine the temperature will be falling a good 10 degrees once we roll into Park City.

Small talk ensues on the bus with about 10 of us packed in like sardines. I ask the guy sitting next to me what he’s here for. His name is Jim Brunzell and he’s scouting films for Sound Unseen, a film festival that he helps curate. Small world. Coincidentally, in 2010, the Wheedle’s Groove film documentary won the Jury Prize for Best Film at Sound Unseen. We both trip out. Our driver is Joel who sports a killer mustache.

I’m told that last year’s ‘stache was mightier.

Over the course of the next 10 days, the Rodriguez documentary Searching For Sugar Man will screen 6 times. I’m here till Tuesday so I’ll be checking out 4 of them, along with a surprise performance or two from the man.

Bus Driver Joel

On way to dinner, I meet two local brothers on the bus. Talk focusses on taking “a frozen” and life in Park City. It’s a pretty town of just 8,000 residents. One of the brothers works at local whiskery distillery High West. I hope to stop by before I fly out.

Dinner’s at a spot on Main Street called Café Terigo. I soon realize this is feeling more like a Rodriguez convention, gathering some familiar and unfamiliar faces from Rodriguez’s life and career. Seeing Rodriguez for the first time in over a year is an immediate high. He looks great in a black suit and scarf, calm and classy as always. You can see the smile on his face when we chat about the film and the people surrounding us. It felt a little too good to be true. I quickly meet my heroes, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew, the two South Africans who started all this madness. In the mid-’90s through endless persistence and a milk carton featuring Rodriguez’s face, they located Rodriguez who Sugar, Craig, and all in S.A. thought was long dead. Along with Rodriguez, Sugar and Craig are the stars of the doc. Sugar’s flown in from South Africa, Craig from Baltimore where he now lives. Around 2005, I emailed Sugar via the website Sugarman.org, stating my hopes of meeting Rodriguez and re-releasing Cold Fact and Coming From Reality. Sugar immediately responded, kindly putting me in touch with Regan, Rodriguez’s daughter, and soon after we flew out to Detroit to meet the man. I’m endlessly grateful to Sugar for responding to that email. Prior to my email, he received many similar requests from other labels, but had faith in what we could do. After exchanging emails for years, it was wonderful to finally meet him in the flesh. The work of Sugar and Craig is such an inspiring story. I felt like asking for autographs. I held back.

Craig Bartholomew and Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman

I meet the film’s producer Simon Chinn. Another larger than life figure in the world of documenting long lost tales. Simon produced Project Nim and Man On Wire, one of the best docs of the past few decades . I meet another familiar face, Rodriguez’s middle daughter Sandra and her daughter Amanda. Great people. It was fantastic catching up with everyone. The excitement for this film from the 20 or so of us in this room was literally through the roof. We’d all seen rough cuts over the years but not the final document and never on the big screen.

Rodriguez with daughter Sandra Kennedy and director Malik Bendjelloul - Photo by artlobster

After dinner, we head to the Library Center Theatre for the premiere, which goes down well. Lots of tears and laughs flowing throughout the screening. During the Q&A they bring out Rodriguez and he receives a standing ovation. It was hard not getting choked up. I find myself with a massive perma-smile throughout both the screening and Q&A, even after seeing the doc so many times before. Lots of interesting questions unfold during the Q&A. Rodriguez is in fine style as always with his first line being “it’s a great day to be in Utah.” He humbly answers questions, but spends most of the time congratulating director Malik Bendjelloul for a much deserved fantastic job.

Afterwards, Sugar and I share some vodka and he gives me an LP that he’s brought from his record store Mabu Vinyl in Cape Town, South Africa, Rodriguez’s Best Of LP, originally released in S.A. in 1982. It’s incredibly rare and the LP that got Sugar deeply into Rodriguez’s music. I notice that track 1 is “Crucify Your Mind” so I can understand. A kind, kind gift.

I get back at 2 AM and finally fall asleep. Not an easy task after the heavy adrenaline rush of the past few hours. What a night. Many more screenings to come, including Friday’s at 9am sharp. Can’t wait.