How an iPhone App Helped to Save Academy Award Winner “Searching for Sugar Man”

I was admittedly late in catching up with the touching 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which I watched long after its director, Malik Bendjelloul, committed suicide in May 2014 after a battle with depression. I knew the documentary’s topic – the quest for the elusive American folk musician Sixto Rodriguez who was virtually unknown in the US but a legend in South Africa – but I wasn’t aware of some interesting details about its production.

Poster for Malik Bendjelloul's documentary "Searching for Sugar Man".

This post is actually a follow-up to my previous article on recent films shot with iPhones, because to me, the most interesting aspect of this documentary is that an iPhone app was crucial to its completion. Searching for Sugar Man became one of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2013 thanks to its story, but also thanks to its look and feel. Contributing to this success was an app called 8mm Vintage Camera.

Bendjelloul himself recalled in this interview with CNN that the basic feature of this app, which works more or less like filters on Instagram, is its ability to recreate the “flavour” of Super 8 mm films. This is the expensive film format that the director has started to use before running out of money.

American folk singer Sixto Rodriguez as featured in the photo for the cover of "Coming from Reality", his second and final studio album.

When Bendjelloul realised that he needed extra shots to complete the documentary, but did not have the budget to buy more proper film stock, he came across the app, which is now sold on the App Store for £1.49, and went for it as for him it perfectly matched the style of the main footage.

Needless to say, after discovering that Searching for Sugar Man was completed thanks to its product, the developer started to publicise 8mm Vintage Camera as “an Oscar worthy app”.