Cannes Stars React to ‘Sugarman’ Director’s Suicide – “Life is a Beautiful Gift”

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The start of the Cannes Film Festival 2014 was dominated yesterday by the sad news of the death of Malik Bendjelloul, the talented Swedish director who won an Oscar last year for his documentary about two South Africans fans searching for musician Rodriguez.

Malik Bendjelloul
Malik Bendjelloul. Photo: Georges Biard

A South African journalist who had interviewed 36-year-old Malik last year, was in tears whilst waiting for the ‘Grace of Monaco’ press conference at the film festival yesterday.

She knew Malik had passed away in Stockholm the previous day, but she had just been informed by another reporter in the queue that he had committed suicide.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “He had so much energy. He had overcome so much and against all odds had completed the ‘Sugarman’ documentary. He was such an inspiration. Why?”

As talented British actor Stephen Fry, who is prone to depression would say – those of us who don’t suffer depression tend to ask the wrong questions. (In case you’re interested, please see his full quote below.)

Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth
Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth commented on Malik’s passing during a press conference yesterday.

Inside the press conference Nicole Kidman was shocked to hear the news and said “I did not know”.

Her ‘Grace of Monaco’ co-star, Tim Roth, added: “I don’t know the circumstances. It’s incredibly sad.”

During the Cannes Jury interviews later in the day Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal (‘The Motorcycle Diaries’) said “I briefly met Malik at the Oscars last year. This is such shocking news. So sad.”

Fellow Scandinavian director Nicolas Winding Refn (‘Drive’), from Denmark, said: “This is a very tragic affair. Malik was a wonderful film maker. I feel sorry. Life is a beautiful gift.”

“Searching for Sugarman”, which also won a BAFTA, followed the journey of the two SA fans as they searched for US folk musician Sixto Rodriguez whose album ‘Cold Fact’ had been such a hit for many young South Africans in the ’70s and ’80s.

Ironically, while he was almost more famous than the Rolling Stones in SA, Rodriguez was oblivious to this success and was an unknown back home and in most of the world.

Malik’s documentary brought Rodriguez back to SA where he performed at various sold-out concerts…and brought him finally onto the world stage, with a tour to various countries.

But it was not an easy journey for Malik.

“Sugarman” took him five years to complete, during which time he ran out of money and had to shoot some segments temporarily with his iPhone. After filming he offered to re-shoot those segments, but the producers loved the documentary just as he had made it.

The sadness at the passing of Malik was felt around the world. SA expat Lanthus Clark said “I live in Sweden, so it’s a double shock for us SA expats here.”

Dennis Kleinman said: “So very sad – I got to meet him in Los Angeles last year – was such a nice person and so interested to know that I was South African and how Rodriguez impacted my life.”

Stephen Fry on depression:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

“Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

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Jenni is the co-founder and chief editor of SAPeople.com, co-author of The Expat Confessions and co-parent of three gorgeous daughters. After graduating, she worked as a TV producer, political researcher and journalist in South Africa, before moving to London to interview movie stars for international magazines and to tackle British teen angst for London Weekend Television. She has also lived in Australia, and currently lives in France. Jenni is happiest paddle boarding on the Med or sipping rooibos in the bush in Africa. Contact jen@sapeople.com