Sundance, Sixto Rodriguez, and Forthcoming Freezing Balls – Day 1

I’ve been waiting for this Rodriguez film documentary for what feels like centuries. You’re probably wondering, what Sixto doc? Good question. About 4 years ago, as we reissued the 1969 album Cold Fact by Detroit singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, a young Swedish director began hatching a master plan to direct a feature length doc about the mysterious figure. In our ten years as label and 100 records later, Cold Fact remains my personal favorite from our catalog. A reissue that took years to bring to fruition and one of the more personal adventures we’ve been on. And it keeps on.

I met Rodriguez doc director Malik Bendjelloul in August 2008, when Josh and I flew to NYC for Rodriguez’s first ever proper U.S. show, happening at the beautiful Joe’s Pub in Manhattan. Yes, that is correct: outside of a warm up gig in upstate New York a month prior, this was truly the artist’s first ever U.S. show for a man in his sixties, born and bred in Detroit, with two albums under his belt. His larger than life mystique was certainly intact by the time we hit Manhattan. Malik and his crew filmed the sold out gig (I remember the chills of the evening and randomly enough Bernard Purdie showing up as the lights came up). The next few days, the director followed Rodriguez, his family, and I around to a number of promotional opportunities. I remember an interview on WNYC’s Soundcheck and a surprise gig put on by the Fader. It was a magical trip, my first with Rodriguez. Not sure anything tops that West Coast tour of June 2009, but that’s another story. Shit, actually I blogged about that one.

Anyways, over the course of the next few years, Malik would travel to Detroit, South Africa, Los Angeles, and London – hitting each place a half dozen times, documenting Rodriguez’s every move and whisper, and trying to piece together a life story that was hard to believe and harder to tell. From the get go though, Malik’s determination and intelligence struck me as someone who could pull it off. But I think we were all a little skeptical, which is often the case when someone makes a doc on your favorite artist. Doing it right, or even at all, is a monumental feat, something I learned watching Jennifer Maas expertly direct Wheedle’s Groove over a 7 year period. Like reissues, a crappy music doc can be two fold – you’re grateful to learn a few things but bummed it didn’t reach that grand plateau. And once it’s done, it’s done.

Flash forward four years and much sweat and hardwork on Malik’s part, and I’m on the plane headed to the Sundance Film Festival to freeze my ass off and attend the film’s world premiere, screening a number of times over the next week in Park City, Utah. I’ve packed more warm clothes than I’ve ever worn in my life, got two bottles of Jameson (I didn’t dig hearing my friend Toddrick telling me the horror stories on the lack of proper booze in Utah), and already feeling like those measly 3 hours of sleep last night may have not been the best idea. It’s my first time to Sundance. I’m expecting something like SXSW but no hot sun nor BBQ. I’m also having a hard time comprehending this day has actually come. I can’t imagine what Rodriguez and Malik must be thinking about tonight’s premiere. Over the past 18 months, I’ve seen a few rough cuts of the film and can honestly say that the doc reaches that grand plateau. Now it’s time for Malik to share it with the world. It’s going to be a crazy weekend.

- Matt Sullivan