Durban - The maker of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, who this week took his life, was busy working on another film about KwaZulu-Natal conservationist, the late Lawrence Anthony.
Malik Bendjelloul’s raw footage lent to The Independent on Saturday by Anthony’s widow, Francoise Malby-Anthony, shows the two men passionate about their pastimes and exchanging compliments.
“You’re a great interviewer, you know,” Anthony tells Bendjelloul in the grounds of his Thula Thula Game Lodge.
“You really are the best I’ve ever had. You’re a pro – and I’ve done a lot of interviews.”
Bendjelloul replies in a Swedish accent: “I am very impressed with what you’re saying.”
It is only in that final shot that the 36-year-old film-maker appeared in the footage. Until then, one hears only Bendjelloul’s gentle voice, asking questions between long stretches of Anthony’s story telling – from his mission to rescue animals in Baghdad Zoo during the Iraq War to his communicating with traumatised elephants, hoping he could instil in them a trust of humans.
And his larger-than-life philosophies.
The lengthy talk gives the idea that the technique behind making the documentary on Anthony might have been the same used in Searching for Sugar Man.
Malby-Anthony understands what her late husband and Sixto Rodriguez – who was oblivious to being a hit in South Africa having never “made it” at home in the US – had in common that attracted Bendjelloul to them.
“He liked to choose people who were very unusual in their way of life, their choices in life. And who were very humble.
“Sugar Man was unbelievable and it was unbelievable what he had achieved through that documentary.”
Upset at hearing about Bendjelloul’s death, she said she had no idea he was suffering from depression.
“He was very healthy and young. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him to die so young.”
She described him as “very down to earth” and “a wonderful guy”.
“He did interviews with Lawrence and came out again after he died to do more interviews about Lawrence,” Malby-Anthony said.
“He wanted to make a documentary about Lawrence. We were waiting for news from him. Unfortunately, nothing came out.”
She said she was trying to track down Bendjelloul’s girlfriend who had accompanied him on his last visit, in April.
She too is a film-maker, based in New York.
“The news really came as a shock. He was such a young guy, with a promising future, and a brilliant producer.”
Malby-Anthony said many people had asked her on Facebook whether the film Bendjelloul made would be coming out.
She hoped a film-maker would be able to complete the project.
In the footage, Bendjelloul gleans from Anthony the importance he places on adventure. “You need a certain degree of adventure,” Anthony says.
“We’re designed that way. You suppress the spirit if you are not out doing things. There’s got to be a little bit of risk and danger around. It wakes you up. It brings you into the present time. You become alive. You feel life differently like that.
“If you’re stuck in a rut, every day in the traffic, fighting with your wife, worried about your children’s education, the solution is to go out and do something exciting, get in touch with life. That’s the solution, in my opinion.”
He goes on: “Added to that, if you really want to feel good about something, do it without wanting gain for yourself. Do it for someone else, other animals, other things. That’s the elixir of life”.
Independent on Saturday