Former Baltimorean's article inspired Oscar-winning documentary

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

Former Baltimorean Craig Strydom intentionally attended the 85th Academy Awards wearing his father-in-law's tuxedo, the one with the tiny tear in one leg.

The music journalist chose not to mend the small rip. He figured it would keep him grounded if the film that his work inspired, "Searching for Sugar Man," didn't win an Oscar.


He needn't have worried. The fairy tale story that began in the mid-1990s in Strydom's native South Africa captured the top prize Sunday night for best documentary.

"This 15-year journey has changed my life," Strydom wrote in an email interview. "I told a story, and the world sat up and took notice."


"Sugar Man" tells of the improbable resurrection of musician Sixto Rodriguez, who released two albums in the early 1970s and then faded into obscurity. But in South Africa, Rodriguez was as popular as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

Strydom and South African record store owner Stephen Segerman wondered separately why their idol had disappeared without a trace. They eventually joined forces and tracked Rodriguez down to a Detroit tenement, where he was supporting himself by manual labor.

Strydom chronicled the search in "Looking for Rodriguez," an article that he published in 1997 in "Directions" magazine. Segerman later arranged for the singer-songwriter to tour South Africa, where he performed to great acclaim.

After the Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul stumbled across Strydom's article, he began working on what would become his Oscar-winning documentary.

"I knew that I had an incredible story on my hands when I wrote my first piece on the subject," Strydom wrote, "but it took a sensitive director to turn the story into a film."

Weekend Watch


Plan your weekend with our picks for the best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV shows and more. Delivered every Thursday.

Strydom lived in Baltimore for 13 years and was associate creative director for IMRE, a local advertising and public relations firm. He returned temporarily to South Africa last summer to help relatives run a family-owned business.

But he didn't hesitate to travel halfway around the world to attend the Oscars — even if there was no chance that he would return home with a shiny gold statuette for "Sugar Man." (Just two were handed out Sunday night, to Bendjelloul and producer Simon Chinn.)

Instead, Strydom was granted entry to that most exclusive of Academy Awards after-parties, the one sponsored by "Vanity Fair" magazine that requires an Oscar for admittance.


His favorite celebrity encounter was with actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who waxed eloquent and at length about how much he loved the film.

And Strydom's most memorable celebrity meeting? That involved a silver, ruffled ball gown designed by Oscar de la Renta.

"My faux pas encounter," he writes, "was standing on the train of Amy Adams' exquisite dress."