Q. Are you [Rodriguez] happy about how the film has turned out?
Rodriguez: Oh yes. It excited my musical career and it’s been winning a lot of awards. At Sundance, it won the People’s Choice award, it won the Global Documentary award, at the LA Festival it won the Documentary award and Malik Bendjelloul was just in…tell them.
Bendjelloul: Was that in Moscow? Are you asking about Moscow where we had another award? You’re happy right? You [Rodriguez] have seen it many times now.
Rodriguez: I’ve seen it over 30 times. My daughters, my three daughters are in there so you know that’s the highlight for me. In music it’s the same thing, if you listen to any Bowie, Mick Jagger record they always use a girl's voice at the end of the song just a little bit to…lift [the song] and it lifts up the film [to have included his daughters].
Q. How did the project come about?
Bendjelloul: I was travelling around Africa and South America looking for stories with a camera in 2006 and before I came to South Africa I was pretty happy - I thought I had pretty good stories and then I heard this story and I was like ‘Wow this is the best story I have ever heard in my life and will probably ever will hear.’ It was like this great story by this great screen writer. But it was it wasn’t even believable - it was too strange to be fiction.
Q. When you started to make the film, how much of the story did you know because obviously the big reveal that everyone kind of knows at the start is that you’re [Rodriguez] is not dead. How much did you know when you started making the project?
Bendjelloul: I knew the story pretty much. I started the project in 2006 and the South Africa resurrection happened in 1998 so I pretty much knew the whole story. That’s why I fell in love with it so much because I knew that if I don’t screw this up, which I might do as it was my first movie, maybe I should leave this for someone with more experience – it’s such a goldmine of a story, it’s a classic to be part of this thing. So instead of giving it away instead I used a lot of time, I spent four years trying to make justice to the quality and to the music and the story. Also the music no one has heard. Did you hear it?
Q. The style you shot the film in doesn’t make it look like a documentary. It looks more like a ‘proper’ film, not a fly on a wall documentary. Why did you go with that cinematic style?
Bendjelloul: Ah thank you [laughs]. You always try to do your best. You try to do stuff that looks as good as possible and I kind of felt the second part I can’t do too much about because it’s basically going to be filmed on stage and like documentary, archive stuff. The second part I knew was going to be beautiful. It was one of the most beautiful stories I had ever heard. A man was resurrected. It was literally like ‘Elvis is Alive’ that’s going to be pretty easy to get people’s attention. But the first part was, I kind of focused a lot on that part to be more visually attractive to get people to understand that this film is worth seeing. There will be a pay off, you need to wait a while but there is a reason.
Q. Were you surprised on the impact of Rodriguez’s music on white liberal South Africans?
Bendjelloul: Yeah. That was a story I never heard about. It was a taboo to speak about that there were white people who didn’t have a wonderful time in South Africa when it was such a horrible country for the black population. And I thought that was very interesting that there was this white culture as well. Which in a way, I mean, the big thing was of course the black African culture but you never heard about [the white culture]. Then he [Rodriguez] had to, I mean by remote control without even really knowing where he was aiming he literally changed a society. It’s true if you speak to those people Rodriguez was really was our inspiration that got us thinking that we can do something [about Apartheid]. Rodriguez has a line ‘The system is going to fall soon to an angry young tune.’ It was a direct [way] of saying ‘You can do something.’
Q. Rodriguez, you deal with it in the documentary, but how does it feel to have such an impact on a country? Your music didn’t initially do so well in America but it’s of such note in South Africa, that must be quite big for you to deal with?
Rodriguez: It's something, myself, you can’t believe it - I mean because its so crazy to see that. I met Malik Bendjelloul in ’08 but we’d been working since 1998, so like that I just wanted to mention that. I didn’t have anything to do with production in the sense of picking who…I didn’t think Malik had a story line or what he was uncovering. I didn’t believe, I was kind of sceptical about the entire thing even for the tour. So I just wanted to mention that. And it’s true the Apartheid issue. America has its share of issues and you know in Kent State the National Guard were firing on the students as an order as they were protesting the war. And those pictures are still with us today and this Apartheid was happening at the same time in South Africa. About Apartheid, the guy who wrote that legislation, he was stabbed in congress by an orderly…and I never heard any more about that…As you learn about other country’s history, every country has its history as you see those things. In America they were protesting the conscription which was actually in South Africa as well. So my audience is a lot of those soldiers, musicians, people like that. And in America the protesters were leaving the States for Canada, burning their draft cards, you know demonstrating in the streets, the same issue – Government against the people.
Q. Glenn: The music, obviously you have quite a selection of incredibly good songs to choose from. Was that a difficult choice and did that inform the way the film would flow?
Bendjelloul: It was. It was so many songs, I mean every single song fitted into every single place they are that good. If it’s really good music you can do that almost you can use any song anywhere. So I tried everything and everything sounded good! In the end we had a conflict in the end. I was like changing my mind to the very last [moment]. The very last song is now ‘I Slip Away’ and then I was saying ‘No it should be ‘Silver Words’ it’s even better!’ I know ‘I Slip Away is wonderful but ‘Silver Words would be even better.’ Then my producer said ‘No no no no no, you’re not fucking going to do that, it’s ‘I Slip Away.’’ There are so many good songs. It’s strange maybe it’s just the way it works with good music. It works so well with the images it’s a perfect subject for a film. I didn’t think about that, but it really was.
The thing about the mystery, Rodriguez never really talks about biographical stuff revealing his own life but inside the lyrics he actually does. So it was all through the film Rodriguez was interviewed inside of his songs as well. You really hear who he is if you listen careful to this.
Q. Are you not worried that doing the press tour gives away one of the biggest twists of the film?
Bendjelloul: That he’s alive? [To Rodriguez] You’re alive! [Laughs]
Rodriguez: He knows about this now you know.
Bendjelloul: I don’t think it matters. You know if you watch Titanic you know that the ship is going to sink but it’s still, you know it works. The story is pretty good anyway and this is the way it happened in South Africa. They thought he was dead it’s not like an invented narrative structure. It’s chronologically the way it happened in South Africa.
Q. Did you have a favourite story about your demise?
Rodriguez: Do I have a favourite story about my demise? I do not have a favourite story about my demise. [Laughs] Malik was very kind to me in regards to this. I was very sceptical about the entire thing and it was only in the last few months [of making the film] that I acquiesced to his film. I thought he had enough people in there. He had Steve Rowland in there…so I told Malik ‘You’ve got to see Detroit in July and you have got to see it in February’ it’s very cold. So there he was in February filming in the snow. So I had to give into his kind of energy and so forth. And he didn’t know he was going to win. Out of 10,000 in Sundance that were submitted from films all over the world he was picked and it was only a month before he had to submit it so he didn’t know he was going to win. So all of a sudden here he is and we’re all running around.
Q.What were your first impressions of each other?
Rodriguez: You don’t get a second chance at making a first impression and Malik is charming, with his Swedish accent and he had Camilla [Skagerström] with him. Yeah she’s his cinematographer and she’s won awards too. So he came over and there were two Swedes and they were pretty charming and they filmed all over Detroit. Like I said, it was an interesting story and Sugar [South African Record Store Owner] is really the hero in the film, the one that wants to know. And his excitement in the film. He’s holding a phone that’s not there [miming] and then he hangs it up like it’s right here in his hand and you can almost see it man. So Malik can bring things out in people. He’s spent over four years on this. I can relate to that myself as a musicican. So the style is good I think there is a lot of movement in the film and the issue of Apartheid in South Africa which we didn’t know a lot about in the States. In Detroit there is a big [radio] station its called WWJ100 and it’s owned by Rupert Murdock and they give you the weather you want to hear you know? They give you a lot of information about what happened to John Travolta a few years ago or something like this, you know its entertainment news not the news. There is not much information that comes to us from some of the medias.
Bendjelloul: When I met Rodriguez, I had heard so much stuff about him before because I had met all the other [record] producers and everyone who had met him before I had met Rodriguez and I had heard so much conflicting information that it was almost like a surreal – they talked about him almost like a Seer, he saw things. Then I met him and he was this weird looking, so cool, black [wearing] completely Rock and Roll star in a true way. Some people try to look like Rock and Roll stars but he just was this perfect Rock star. Still with his guitar on his back literally.
Rodriguez: Oh that picture, you know the one with the poster that I was carrying a guitar? I wasn’t carrying a guitar. They put that on me! [Laughs] I listen to peoples council and stuff. On the album [Cold Fact] I’m wearing a red shirt, a t-shirt and I’ve got my hands like this [demonstrates putting his hands on his hips] they told me to do this. So I did that and I had a black shirt on and they said ‘If you take that picture you’ll fade into the background.’ So my buddy had a red t-shirt so I put that on and they took the picture. But like that I had allowed myself to be shaped by people, producers, directors and I think its good to allow yourself to be moved around.
Q. Had you done any actual shooting before you got to Rodriguez?
Bendjelloul: Yes, we had done almost all of it before, all the major interviews we did before.
Q. Were you surprised by those interviews that the music producers were so amazed by Rodriguez’s music.
Bendjelloul: Yes! I didn’t know if they were even going to remember him and I called them and they were like ‘If you want to come here I will give you as much time as you like. You can stay here a whole week. I’ve been waiting for this phone call.’ ‘For me this is the greatest thing I ever did and no one has ever asked me anything about this, for forty years no one has ever asked me about this.’ I came to them and told Steve Rowland, the producer about the story about South Africa and he didn’t know. He didn’t know that the album that he had produced was a huge huge success in South Africa. So yeah, I was impressed that they were so much in love with him.
Q. There is quite a confrontational moment in the film with the Sussex Record Label [Rodriguez’s ex-record label]. I was wondering was there more to that and you couldn’t show it?
Bendjelloul: There was more of course. But I didn’t want to go too much into it. I think it needed to be told because that’s the reason…
Rodriguez: There would have been more swearing in it [laughs].
Bendjelloul: Yes there would have been more swearing. If you put too much into the film it would be another film. There really could be another film because for example Rodriguez still sells gold in South Africa and he still doesn’t get the money. That’s not Clarence’s fault [Former Sussex Record owner] that’s another strange reason that lawyers should examine. The story was like another story.
Q. Is there anything you would like people to take away from the film?
Bendjelloul: The music for one. I mean many people say after they have seen it ‘How do we get this music?’ Because when Rodriguez was heard it was an album that was as popular as Abbey Road or something and those albums, I mean Abbey Road people still listen to and this album could possibly be one of those that could stay with people for a long time. It’s that good. It could be like Nick Drake. Nick Drake wasn’t famous when he was alive and most people who know about music know about Nick Drake because the quality of the songs is on that level.
Rodriguez: I just want to say that I’ve only written 30 songs and they do these comparisons with these other kinds of guys [Bob] Dylan and all he has written 500 songs, so there is no comparisons. But it’s nice you know what I mean, when they say those kinds of things. I just wanted to mention that.