By Doug Gritzmacher
Creative Director, Z-Channel Films, Denver, Colorado Google+
The filmmaking community lost a major talent yesterday. Malik Bendjelloul, director of the documentary film “Searching for Sugar Man”, took his own life by throwing himself in front of a subway train. Suicides are always particularly difficult to take as they feel like the lives we have the most control over saving. If someone had just noticed the signs and gotten to him …
But sometimes the signs are not so obvious. Such was reportedly the case with Mr. Bendjelloul. He was just over a year removed from earning an Academy Award for his film. Many of his friends have said he was the last person they would ever suspect to take their own life and that he was possibly the happiest person they knew.
His brother, however, had been spending a lot of time with Mr. Bendjelloul in the days leading up to his suicide and noted that he was depressed. Mr. Bendjelloul had been living in New York while working on a screenplay. He was battling writer’s block and anxiety. He was also away from his home in Sweden and had expressed to his brother that he felt “lonely.” That, combined with his sudden fame, which psychologists liken to a traumatic event, such as a car crash, is what is thought to have driven Mr. Bendjelloul into a deep depression that led to him losing his life. While Mr. Bendjelloul’s brother was aware of his depressed state, Mr. Bendjelloul had recently traveled to back to Sweden in an effort to lift his spirits. It was while in the Swedish subway system that Mr. Bendjelloul decided to end his life.
While we mourn the loss of Mr. Bendjelloul and our thoughts are with his friends and family, we will also mourn the loss of his future work. Mr. Bendjelloul had demonstrated that he was a major talent with “Searching for Sugar Man,” a film here at Z-Channel we are big fans of.
Mr. Bendjelloul shot “Searching for Sugar Man” on Super 8 film to capture the gritty feel of the 1970s. But near the end of production, he ran out of money. He found an iPhone app called “8mm Vintage Camera” and discovered it “looked basically the same” as the 8mm shot film. So, with iPhone in hand, Mr. Bendjelloul completed production on his film with a $1.99 app and the film became first Academy Award winner shot partially on a cell phone.
These technical limitations, and its subsequent success, demonstrate a tenet we at Z-Channel have experienced with our own productions: Story and message are the most important components of any film or media campaign. Without either of those, no amount of high-tech wizardry is going to save your production.
Mr. Bendjelloul’s use of an iPhone also demonstrates a long-held practice among successful docu-filmmakers: passion and tenacity. Funding for docs is near impossible to find, which means most of us end up scrapping together our budgets with funds from friends, family, credit cards, and savings accounts. As Mr. Bendjelloul showed himself to be, we are driven by a passion for the project and will strive to complete our work by any means necessary.
Rest in peace Mr. Bendjelloul. Your voice and passion has inspired us all and will be greatly missed.