Swedish Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul died Tuesday at the age of 36, police said. Anders Wiklund/TT/The Associated Press
Malik Bendjelloul, the cash-strapped freelance filmmaker who shot to Hollywood stardom overnight with the Oscar-winning music documentary Searching for Sugar Man, has died. He was 36.
Swedish police spokeswoman Pia Glenvik told The Associated Press that Bendjelloul died in Stockholm late Tuesday, but wouldn't specify where his body was found or the cause of death.
She said no crime is suspected in relation to the filmmaker's death.
News emerged Wednesday from Bendjelloul's brother Johar Bendjelloul that the filmmaker had taken his own life after struggling with depression for a short period.
"Life is not always simple," Johar Bendjelloul told Swedish daily Aftonbladet, saying that receiving the message that his 36-year-old younger brother had committed suicide was the worst thing he had ever experienced.
"I don't know how to handle it. I don't know," he said.
Searching for Sugar Man, which tells the story of how American singer Sixto Rodriguez became a superstar in South Africa without knowing about it, won the Oscar for best documentary in 2013. It was the first time a Swedish film had won an Oscar since Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander in 1984.
The film also won several other prizes, including a British BAFTA for best documentary and the Swedish Guldbagge award.
Bendjelloul came across the story about Rodriguez, who had disappeared from public life in the U.S. but developed an unlikely cult following among white liberals in South Africa, during a trip to Cape Town.
"I had never heard anything close to this in terms of the emotional content and the spectacular way things evolved. My jaw just dropped," Bendjelloul told The Hollywood Reporter after winning the Oscar.
Film described as lousy
The soft-spoken, unassuming Bendjelloul worked as a reporter for Sweden's public broadcaster SVT before resigning to backpack around the world. He got the idea for Searching for Sugar Man — his first feature film — during one of his trips, but it would take him more than four years to complete the film.
Bendjelloul later recalled that when the film was 90 per cent finished, after he had been editing it for three years, the main sponsor said the film was lousy and withdrew support.
At this stage he had already used up all his savings and borrowed money from friends, so he stopped working on the movie and took other jobs to make ends meet. In the end, he completed the film by shooting the final parts with his smartphone and making his own animations.
Bendjelloul was born in 1977 to Swedish translator Veronica Schildt Bendjelloul and doctor Hacene Bendjelloul and acted in the Swedish TV series Ebba and Didrik as a child during the 1990s. He studied journalism and media production at the Linnaeus University of Kalmar in southern Sweden before joining SVT where he worked as a reporter on the culture program Kobra.
New movie in the works
Bendjelloul's death came as a shock to many in the close-knit Swedish film community.
"This terrible news has put us all in a state of shock," Swedish Film Institute spokesman Jan Goransson told the AP.
"Malik Bendjelloul was one of our most exciting film makers, which the Oscar award last year was a clear proof of," Goransson said.
He said Bendjelloul had been working on a new movie before his death but wouldn't give any details.
The film director has previously said he escaped the Hollywood hype around him after the Oscar award to go on a safari and has been working on a film about a man who could communicate with elephants.
Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas, who travelled with Bendjelloul to Hollywood when he received the Oscar, described him as a modest, but very determined man.
"He was an incredibly talented storyteller," Pallas wrote. "He had the strength of a marathon runner; to work on his film for so many years and sometimes without money, then you have a goal."
Bendjelloul is survived by his parents and brother Johar Bendjelloul. Funeral arrangements weren't immediately known.
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