Producer and friend Simon Chinn (pictured, right) is among a host of industry figures paying tribute to Searching for Sugar Man director Malik Bendjelloul (left), who was found dead in Sweden yesterday (May 13).
According to Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, which quotes the director’s older brother Johar Bendjelloul, the 36-year-old Oscar-winner took his own life after battling with depression. Police have said that they are not treating the death as suspicious.
Chinn, who produced Sugar Man together with Bendjelloul, wrote on Twitter that the director was “the sweetest and most guileless of men,” and said he was shocked by the news.
“It seems so unbelievable,” he told the Associated Press today. “I saw him two weeks ago in London. He was so full of life, hope and optimism and happiness, and looking forward to the future and future collaborations. We were talking about working together and talking about specific ideas, so the idea that he is no longer is just too hard to process.”
Meanwhile, Sugar Man‘s exec producer John Battsek, of Passion Pictures, said the director was “a man so kind and gentle and harmless, whose journey with us seemed sprinkled with magic dust from day one, it is indescribably painful for all of us whose lives he touched here at Passion to think that the journey is now over.”
Elsewhere, Senna director Asif Kapadia wrote on Facebook: “Rest in peace Malik Bendjelloul. The sweetest guy you ever met,” while Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival today: “He was a wonderful filmmaker. I just feel really sorry for those left behind.”
Doc directors Dawn Porter, Lucy Walker, Michael Moore, Jeanie Finlay and Tracy Droz Tragos also paid tribute on Twitter, as did organizations such as Cinema Eye Honors, BAFTA, ‘POV’ and Dogwoof, alongside senior execs from festivals including TIFF, Sheffield Doc/Fest (which opened its festival with Sugar Man in 2012) and Hot Docs.
Before making his debut doc, Bendjelloul worked as a reporter for Swedish broadcaster SVT.
Among those paying tribute to him at the network was SVT’s culture chief Eva Beckman, who told AP that his death was incomprehensible. “One always says it is unbelievable when a young person dies, or when anybody dies, but it is even more unbelievable with Malik,” she said. “Malik was simply such an incredibly alive person. What really set him apart from everybody else was his passion for storytelling. He was a fantastic storyteller.”
Bendjelloul wrote, directed and produced Sugar Man, his feature doc debut, releasing it in 2012. The doc opened Sundance that year, where it won an audience award, before going on to win more than 30 other major prizes, including honors from the DGA, the IDA, IDFA and BAFTA.
It won Oscars for Bendjelloul and producer Simon Chinn in early 2013, when it claimed the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
The subject of the film, musician Sixto Rodriguez, told Swedish newspaper Expressen that he was “shocked” upon learning of the news, hours before a performance at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. The musician called Bendjelloul “an amazing man. He was both unique and very friendly.”
He is survived by his parents and his brother, Johar.
A selection of Twitter tributes follows below:
RIP Malik Bendjeloull, aged 36, director of Searching for Sugar Man. Such sad news. Such a beautiful film. Life is so short and so fragile.
— Lucy Walker (@lucywalkerfilm) May 14, 2014
— Thom Powers (@thompowers) May 14, 2014
Just stunned to hear about Malik Bendjelloul. He was such a lovely guy. What an incredible shame.
— Charlotte Cook (@CharlotteCook) May 13, 2014
Deeply sad. Life is too short for too many. Oscar-winning ‘Sugar Man’ director Malik Bendjelloul dies at 36 //t.co/XT6wdJnL6B
— Tracy Droz Tragos (@TracyDrozTragos) May 13, 2014
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) May 14, 2014
The Sheffield team are in shock and deeply saddened by the news of Malik Bendjelloul’s death. We can’t believe it. He was such a great guy
— Dawn Porter (@dawnporterm) May 13, 2014
Malik Bendjelloul, ‘Searching For Sugarman’ Director, Dies At 36, Police Report //t.co/jThUpLGjyV He made a great film & will be missed
— heathercroall (@heathercroall) May 14, 2014
Feel so sad about Malik, so young to die //t.co/nappkLK10I
— Jeanie Finlay (@JeanieFinlay) May 14, 2014