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."
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LYNN NEARY, host:
We continue our series today talking with the filmmakers behind the top five documentary feature films nominated for Academy Awards. Today, "Exit Through the Gift Shop." The film tells the unlikely story of Thierry Guetta, a man who set out to film guerilla street artists all over the world. After five years of obsessively filming artists who work secretly and often at night on city streets and rooftops, Thierry finally got to meet the elusive Banksy. A British artist, Banksy appears in the film as a silhouette wearing a hoodie, his face completely blacked out and his voice distorted.
(Soundbite of movie, "Exit Through the Gift Shop")
BANKSY (Artist): I never let anybody film anything before. I said he could film me, putting my hands from behind (unintelligible) afterwards.
Mr. THIERRY GUETTA (Filmmaker): It was magic that this person let me film, you know? I felt like I had the piece that will finish the puzzle.
NEARY: Through a series of complicated events, Banksy ends up directing his own film using the footage Thierry collected over the years. The result, an Oscar-nominated documentary. Jaimie D'Cruz produced the film, "Exit Through the Gift Shop." He joins us from a studio in Los Angeles.
Welcome and congratulations on your nomination.
Mr. JAIMIE D'CRUZ (Producer, "Exit Through the Gift Shop"): Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.
NEARY: And if you in the audience have seen the film and have any questions, give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Well, Jaimie, at the beginning of the film, Banksy sort of sums up what it's all about when he says, quote, "The film is the story of what happened when this guy tried to make a documentary about me, but he was actually a lot more interesting than I am. So now the film's kind of about him."
So can you elaborate on how that all came about?
Mr. D'CRUZ: Yeah. I mean, Thierry was - Thierry, the main character in the film, who's a French �migr� living in L.A., had become through a strange set of circumstances obsessed by - well, first, obsessed by filming everything in his past, and through a kind of coincidental family relationship he suddenly managed to become very embedded in the world of street art and graffiti, which is a world populated almost exclusively by furtive men working illegally and at night.
So he became a kind of a kind of personality in a world without any personalities. And he was actually very well known in that world. I mean, this is long before I'd ever heard of him. He's become a kind of, you know, a kind of peeps(ph) figure. He was the kind of diarist of this movement. And so he had incredible access to this world which he kind of parlayed into after a long time of showing that he was a man who can be trusted.
He managed to kind of inveigle his way to kind of the prize which was the street artist Banksy, who is the uber-anonymous person in a world full of anonymous people.
And so I think the comment that Banksy makes at the beginning of the film, which is that, you know, he became more interesting than Banksy was, was because Thierry had become a personality in this world, and he I mean he is an interesting and compelling character and - no, he became the focus of the things he was filming. He became the story almost.
NEARY: And also he had, I guess, was it a thousand hours of tape? Is that right? A thousand hours of film?
Mr. D'CRUZ: Well, the truth is we have absolutely no idea how many hours of footage Thierry has.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. D'CRUZ: Thierry has absolutely no idea how many hours of footage he has. I mean, I - we've estimated we probably had something close to a thousand hours, a little under a thousand hours. But I suspect that Thierry has thousands more hours that we haven't seen. And Thierry told us himself, he really doesn't really know where these tapes are. But he has - you know, he filmed a lot. And not only did he filmed everything, he also filmed quite a lot of it on two cameras and quite often on three cameras. So you know, a day in Thierry's life could result in, you know, 20 or 30 tapes, quite easily.
NEARY: So Thierry might not ever have gotten this done, in other words. I mean, he really, perhaps, didn't have the ability to go through that tape and turn into a documentary.
Mr. D'CRUZ: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think one of the first twists in the film comes when it's revealed that - you know, I don't want to give anything away to any people listening in who haven't seen the film. But there's a revelation about Thierry's motives earlier on, which is - I think it's like curious revelation and it was certainly a surprise to us. And it was revealed to us quite late into us making the film, that Thierry didn't really watch his tapes, and he wasn't particularly planning to make a film. But it was kind of a good cover story.
I think, when I say cover story, Thierry kind of wanted to be a part of this world. He gave him - you know, we're talking about a married man in his 40s, father of three, not the typical kind of street artist guerilla. 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, having the excitement and the thrills of, you know, being a part of this elicit world. Yeah. So I think Thierry kind of went along with the idea that he was making a documentary because that was the obvious idea that - everyone he was filming assumed he was making a documentary.
I don't think Thierry, kind of, misled people. I think it was kind of a convenient belief that - you know, immediately convenient thing that he has kind of had out there, that he was in the middle of making this amazing documentary about this amazing world. But I think (unintelligible) to him wasn't really planning to make that film.
NEARY: Right. Jaimie D'Cruz is the producer of Oscar-nominated documentary, "Exit Through the Gift Shop."
If you like to join our discussion, the number is 800-989-8255. We're going to take a call from David in Charleston, North Carolina? David?
DAVID (Caller): South Carolina.
NEARY: South Carolina. I thought so.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Go ahead.
DAVID: I have a question. I've been researching a lot about the movie and it's a wonderful movie, by the way. My wife is an artist, a sculptor. And we've read a lot about the movie being somewhat of a contrivance, that Banksy really sort of created this sort of artistic idea of who the writer was - the man who's making the movie and kind of turned him into what he is. And that the movie itself is more of a contrivance than actual documentary and a wonderful one. So I don't want anyone to take that the wrong way, because it's a phenomenal movie. But I was hoping that the producer could talk about that a little bit and kind of shed some light on that.
NEARY: Yeah. I was going to ask you about that myself, Jaimie. I was like...
Mr. D'CRUZ: Yeah.
NEARY: So there is a lot of - a little bit of controversy about whether this is real or not.
Mr. D'CRUZ: There's more than a little bit controversy. There's been a kind of a big, kind of, suspicion amongst critics, viewers, all sorts of people, that we the filmmakers, and Banksy in particular, somehow, kind of created this story as a way to make a comment on the art world and other things. But, actually, the truth is that the film is really a true story of something extraordinary that happened
And maybe one thing I would say to those people who have accused us of staging the whole story, is that, you know, frankly, it's beyond us. You know, we wouldn't be able to create something as extraordinary as the rise of the Thierry Guetta and his morphing into Mr. Brainwash, which is the name he becomes known as a street artist in his own right. I mean, we - so we didn't have the intent. We didn't have the inclination to do that, to kind of stage a prank on the world.
And I think the problem in part that's, I think, fueling this is that there is, frankly, an unbelievable story. I mean, I wouldn't disagree with that for a moment. I mean, it is an unbelievable story. But, you know, just because it's unbelievable, it doesn't meant it ain't true, you know. And the film is actually in a very traditional documentary terms, in that it tells the story of something that happened with the people being - you see, the main character in that being interviewed. And that story's supported by rushes, by, you know, video material, garnered over a long time. And I mean, it's quite hard thing to prove that it is true. But, you know, it's actually a true story.
NEARY: Okay, Dave, thanks so much for your call. Let's go to Corrie(ph), and Corrie is calling from Parkville, Maryland. Hi, Corrie.
CORRIE (Caller): Hi. Yeah. I mean, I'm on the same page as the last caller, in that my impression was that Mr. Brainwash, as an entity, was created to comment on the swift popularity of the street art movement. But I certainly didn't think that the whole thing was a hoax, because, I mean, there's no way he could have gone back and remade all that footage.
NEARY: Which is basically what you're saying, Jaimie. Is that right? You were saying the same thing.
Mr. D'CRUZ: Yeah. And I think your caller is making a good - I mean, there is a spectrum here. There's a spectrum where it goes from one extreme - the whole thing is completely made up. Thierry Guetta is an actor. He's been scripted and styled and, you know, the film is really - I mean, we had all sorts of rumors that Sacha Baron Cohen was involved and Spike Jones. You know, I mean, so that's one extreme. And the other extreme, you know, is simply that we somehow manipulated the (unintelligible) events, you know, and that Banksy kind of -was somehow more complicit in Thierry's show and in the astounding success of Thierry's show than we let on in the film.
But, you know, again - I mean, as the people - as one of the people making the film, I mean, I think that the truth is that the story be - kind of gathered its own momentum. And we were running to keep up with the story, because we all became involved in this film, Thierry hadn't done his show. We had no idea that it was going to become an astounding success. We didn't have that as a preconceived outcome by any means. We also didn't really know anything about what Thierry'd been filming all these years.
So we had to two processes going on. One was filming a real time story, which became an incredible story. And as I said, we were kind of running to keep up with that. And the other story that was going on with it, we were finding what Thierry's treasure trove was in his boxes and boxes of tapes and what story that would tell. So, you know, we approached this film as, very much, as something where we wanted to find out what the story was and to work out how, you know, the best way to tell that story. But the idea that we created the story is simply not true.
NEARY: Jaime D'Cruz is the producer of the Oscar-nominated film "Exit Through the Gift Shop." And he joined us from a studio in Los Angeles. Thank you and good luck at the Oscars.
Mr. D'CRUZ: Thank you.
NEARY: You can view a trailer for this film on our Website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. You can also see our interviews with the other documentary filmmakers nominated for Academy Awards this year, as well as last year's nominees.
Tomorrow, NPR's Bob Mandelo explains which documentaries get nominated and which are ignored. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.