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In Exit Through the Gift Shop, reclusive street artist Banksy tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a videographer who sets out to capture the world of street art. Through a series of unlikely events, Guetta becomes the subject — and a street artist, himself.
The film, nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary category, has confused reviewers and moviegoers alike, who doubt its authenticity.
Banksy does not give interviews, so producer Jaimie D'Cruz joins NPR's Lynn Neary on his behalf. "Thierry," explains D'Cruz, "was obsessed by filming everything in his path." Guetta was related to a street artist, and through that connection he became embedded in the graffiti world. It's "a world populated almost exclusively by furtive men, working illegally and at night."
Guetta became a well-known personality in the underground scene, "a world without any personalities," and served as a diarist for the movement. He parlayed his access, built on his reputation for trustworthiness, into meeting "the prize, which was the street artist Banksy — the uber-anonymous person in a world full of anonymous people."
The subjects Guetta cast his camera on believed he was using the footage for a documentary, but that may never have been the case. Rather, Guetta seemed to use the story as a cover to further access to a world he found exhilarating. Guetta began creating his own street art, under the pseudonym Mr. Brainwash.
"Thierry wanted to be a part of this world," says D'Cruz. "We're talking about a married man in his 40s, a father of three, not the typical street artist guerrilla. And I think Thierry got quite a lot of satisfaction out of being out on the rooftops in various cities around the world, being out all night and having the excitement and the thrills of being part of this illicit world."
But Banksy found Guetta's story more intriguing than his own, so he took over the documentary and switched its focus — or so the story goes. Some believe Banksy invented Guetta's story, and that it's more of a creative movie than a documentary.
D'Cruz dismisses the suspicion. "The truth is, the film is really a true story of something extraordinary that happened," he says. "We wouldn't be able to create something as extraordinary as the rise of Thierry Guetta ... We didn't have the intent, we didn't have the inclination to do that, to kind of stage a prank on the world."