Oscars: ‘Sugar’ Win Sweetens the Joy for Sony Classics

Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” won the Academy Award for top feature documentary Sunday night, but the film is looking for more than just Oscar love.

Pic has persisted in plexes for seven months, forging a path of longevity and capping the awards circuit with a spate of kudos hardware. “Sugar Man” is not stopping its run yet, though, thanks to upcoming screening dates planned by distrib Sony Pictures Classics.

Sony Classics toppers Tom Bernard and Michael Barker discovered the film when they caught wind of its Sundance admission last year. Duo immediately started chasing “Sugar Man,” Bernard said, because they believed it had a unique vibe and the potential for solid word-of-mouth.

“We have a very eclectic slate, and we buy movies we think we can make work,” Bernard told Variety. “This movie spoke to us in a way where we thought it could be a very special doc.”

Sony Classics inked a deal and bought the pic right before it screened at Sundance. Bernard said “Sugar Man” has since had a strong run, making Stateside headlines in cities all over, from Los Angeles to Montgomery, Ala., to Athens, Ga. and cuming $3.3 million since its July release.

Bernard attributed the pic’s shelf life in part to its emotional resonance, saying people typically walk away from the movie with a sense of hope. “Sugar Man” screened gratis in the Superstorm Sandy-ravaged city of Red Bank, N.J., and, according to Bernard, more than 1,500 people showed up and left “walking on air.”

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Film centers on Mexican-American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who, after releasing two folk rock albums in 1970 and 1971, seemed to have disappeared, and was rumored to have died after his records failed to sell Stateside. Docu follows two of Rodriguez’s ardent fans as they attempt to nail down what really happened to the unlikely musical icon who amassed a cult following in South Africa during the apartheid era.

“It seems for Rodriguez, lightning has sort of struck twice with him,” Bernard said. “He affected a nation and had no idea, and then he shows up again with a movie, which he had no idea would happen, and he’s again affected a whole nation of people.”

“Sugar Man” contended with “5 Broken Cameras,” “The Gatekeepers,” “How to Survive a Plague” and “The Invisible War” for the docu feature Oscar. Bendjelloul’s pic is one of the more uplifting projects in the bunch, albeit one that still packs a punch.

“(The Oscar) takes it to another level, and it becomes something that is a classic, something that will always be carried no matter what new formats get invented,” Bernard said.

Keeping the pic on screens for as long as possible is Bernard’s ultimate goal, though  —  not just because it will make more coin, but because in doing so, “Sugar Man” will instill a public awareness. He says it’s a timeless story that speaks to the human condition, one that’s still on a journey.

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