LOS ANGELES - On the morning of Jan. 10, Searching for Sugar Man director Malik Bendjelloul was still getting used to the reality of having made an Oscar-nominated film.
"It feels surrealistic, crazy. Oscar is, the word itself, it's something you've heard about since you were a kid. It never occurred to me that it was something anyone ever achieved. I mean, I'm from Sweden. It's completely crazy," he told the Free Press from Los Angeles.
Bendjelloul, a Swedish TV producer, said he expected to get a phone call around 5:30 a.m. if he earned a nomination for the documentary he made about the peculiar career arc of Detroit musician Rodriguez. When he woke up a little late at 5:50 a.m. L.A. time, he thought the film had failed to make it into the best documentary category. The he went online.
"I checked my emails and I was like, 'Wait, wait, no, no I got it, I got it!'" he recalled with a laugh.
He credited Rodriguez with being the key to the film's success.
"This is the most amazing story ever. The story of Rodriguez, it was like the Cinderella aspect of it, a man lives his whole life without knowing he's a superstar. When I heard the story, I thought it was the best story I ever heard in my life."
Bendjelloul fell in love with Detroit as a cinematic backdrop after meeting Rodriguez in the city in 2008 and convincing him to be part of the film. He traveled to Detroit about a half-dozen times for the film, in addition to filming in South Africa and other locales.
"Rodriguez is Detroit, in a way," he said of the singer, the son of Mexican immigrants who stayed true to his unique, somewhat eccentric style and eventually found that stardom caught up to him.