"It's an absolutely fucking crazy story."
- Jaimie D'Cruz
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film that defies explanation, and one's ability to suspend disbelief. Indeed the plot would be utterly ridiculous, if it weren't for the fact that it's true.
It started out life as a simple documentary about street art as seen through the lens of Thierry Guetta, a French national living in Los Angeles. Thanks to a family connection, and his infectious and perpetuity ebullient personality, Guetta gained unparalleled access to the major players in the scene, who are a notoriously secretive and hard to track down bunch by necessity due to the predominantly illicit nature of their work. Guetta's extreme enthusiasm for the form, and his zealous pursuit of its practitioners, ultimately led him to the scene's holy grail, Banksy, an elusive British street art superstar.
After Guetta proved his worth as a location scout in LA, Banksy - whose real identity is shrouded in mystery - inexplicably agreed to participate in his documentary film project (or more accurately didn't object when he started rolling tape). Guetta proceeded to shoot hundreds of hours of footage, over a period that spanned several years. With no sign of the finished product in sight however, Banksy eventually suggested Guetta work on a first cut. It was only at this point that a major stumbling block became apparent - the fact that Guetta actually had no clue how to make a film,
"I didn't know if I believed he was a filmmaker or a mental patient with a camera," said Banksy of Life Remote Control, the manic film Guetta subsequently produced. In an attempt to salvage the situation, Banksy decided to take control of the project - and of Guetta's vast library of unlogged videotape. Banksy in turn, encouraged the cameraman turned friend to make some art of his own, as he exchanged roles and became the filmmaker.
It was at this point that events took an unlikely and unanticipated course. Banksy recruited producer Jaimie D'Cruz, who then brought editor Chris King onboard. Together they began the process of assessing Guetta's raw material to see if it was even possible to assemble it into some kind of meaningful narrative. As they viewed it they began to realize that the effusive Frenchman was ultimately the star of his own footage. Guetta meanwhile had taken Banksy's edict a little more seriously than had been intended, and started work on an art show of epic proportions.
A crew was dispatched to LA to film Guetta as he mounted his assault on the art world under the moniker Mr. Brainwash. Having rented the extremely spacious old CBS building, Columbia Square, on Sunset Blvd., Guetta set about filling it ahead of his June 18, 2008 debut. As with his filmmaking endeavor, Guetta didn't let his lack of prior personal experience hold him back from jumping in with two feet (neither did a broken leg).
Much to the surprise of everyone - including Banksy - the event proved to be an undeniable success. Thousands flocked to the opening night (which featured Shepard Fairey on the decks), and by the end of the first week Guetta had sold close to $1 million worth of his Mr. Brainwash "art."
Guetta was a bona fide overnight sensation, but was he a bona fide artist? As Mr. Brainwash's career took flight, Banksy, D'Cruz and King shifted the focus of the street art documentary, turning the lens on its original documentarian. Though the resulting film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, can't possibly provide a definitive conclusion regarding Guetta's authenticity as an artist, it poses the underlying question, and many more with it, in an incredibly smart and entertaining way. However, following initial screenings at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals, and the documentary's cinematic release in April of this year, this ambiguity and the unlikely events chronicled have led some to accuse the filmmakers of staging an elaborate hoax.
Banksy's reputation as a prankster has also confounded the situation, but, with his blessing, filmmakers D'Cruz and King are keen to set the record straight. While in town for the International Documentary Awards, SuicideGirls caught up with the duo at a brunch spot on Robertson Blvd. Though Exit Through the Gift Shop was passed over (in favor of Waste Land) at that particular ceremony, the film has won a prestigious Grierson Award, and is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and shortlisted for Oscar nomination.
Read my exclusive interview with Jaimie D'Cruz and Chris King on SuicideGirls.com/.