Street artist turned filmmaker Banksy's first movie, the wildly entertaining documentary 'Exit Through the Gift Shop,' has already been shortlisted for the 2011 Academy Awards. That's good news, because the story of the early days of street art and how one man, Thierry Guetta (better known to his fans as Mr. Brainwash), became an overnight celebrity in the field is one of the best documentaries to turn up in the last few years. Even if you don't know the first thing about street art, the film makes the subject matter accessible and interesting.
Some folks, though, wonder if it's a little too interesting. 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' has been the subject of a great deal of debate amongst film critics, art community members, and casual movie fans when the subject of whether the film is a real documentary or not comes up. It's the age old problem that all documentaries face – almost certainly compounded by our ever-increasing fascination with reality television -- taken to a new extreme. It's now standard procedure to question the veracity of any form of entertainment purporting to be "real."
The questions seem even more persistent with this film – partially because Banksy is an artist with a penchant for elaborately clever pieces of work and partially because the story seems stranger than fiction. It wouldn't be entirely shocking to discover that Mr. Brainwash and the rest of 'Exit' were a meticulously crafted piece of viral marketing/performance art, but Banksy is going to great lengths to assure everyone that's not the case.
The blog All These Wonderful Things recently got the artist to talk about the project, and his responses are intriguing. Hit the jump to read some of the highlights.
Banksy covers a wide range of topics in the interview (which was conducted via email), and the authenticity of the project is a major point of discussion. When asked about some people's insistence that the film is a prank, the director had this to say. "Obviously the story is bizarre, that's why I made a film about it, but I'm still shocked by the level of skepticism. I guess I have to accept that people think I'm full of sh*t. But I'm not clever enough to have invented Mr. Brainwash, even the most casual on-line research confirms that."
He goes on to add, "Ordinarily I wouldn't mind if people believe me or not, but the film's power comes from the fact it's all 100% true. This is from the frontline, this is watching an art form self-combust in front of you. Told by the people involved. In real time. This is a very real film about what it means to 'keep it real'."
The rest of the conversation is full of more great quotes from Banksy, including his assertion that his own team of assistants and other street artists hate him for making the documentary because they feel Mr. Brainwash is undeserving of the spotlight and his thoughts on how documentary filmmaking ties into punk culture.
What's your take on this topic? Did 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' feel overly staged to you or did it play as real as the rest of this year's documentary contenders? Share your thoughts in the comment section. If you haven't had a chance to see Banksy's film, it's currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.