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Exit Through the Gift Shop

As the 2011 Oscar’s approach (February 27), I’ll be taking a closer look at each of the five documentary films nominated this year: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo and Waste Land, ultimately making my own prediction for which one will come out the winner.

First up on my to do list was Exit Through the Gift Shop. The nomination of which maybe puts to rest the mystery surrounding the film as pure documentary or a hoax. At its core, hoax or no, it’s a film about street art, a hybrid form of graffiti that uses stickers, stencils, posters, and sculptures to create art that captures one moment. It is art so momentary that it can be painted over or taken away moments or days later. It’s art that street artist legend Banksy, the sort-of subject of the film, explains as being in a “legal gray area.” However, once seen as a nuisance, thanks to artists such as Banksy, street art now sells in the most presitgious auction houses. 

Exit Through the Gift Shop begins by introducing Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant who cannot put his film camera down. He films everything, from his family to celebrities he encounters in Los Angeles. He finally finds a focus when he starts to film his cousin, Space Invader, a street artist famous for his mosaic pieces. Through Space Invador, Theirry begins to film artists all around the world including Shepard Fairey (an artist most famous for his OBEY stickers depicting the famed wrestler Andre The Giant. See below.) and, eventually, Banksy. Guetta is given an intimate inside look at Banksy’s secretive world and documents his art projects from London to Disneyland. 

Starting out as merely a film about street art, Exit Through the Gift Gift Shop takes an interesting and unpredictable turn when the two men switch roles, Banksy becoming the director of the film and Thierry the subject of the film. It is actually through this role reversal and the creation of Thierry’s alter-ego, Mr. Brainwash, that we learn the most about this world and the public’s perception of the art this world produces. 


Thierry Guetta

As a director, Banksy shows his creativity by weaving together the story of an art movement and a man who gets sucked into it. Not only does the film bring the viewer into a secret world that really is all around us (literally pasted onto the sides of buildings, mailboxes, and stop signs), but the documentary also poses pertinent questions about art as a commodity, hype, and worth. However, what I think sets this documentary apart from others I have seen, is how it is told; because the artists themselves are telling the story (and directing it), the film becomes remarkably introspective.

View the trailer below and definitely check out this film (especially if you want to predict which documentary will be taking home the big prize). It’s also streaming now on Netflix.

– Laura Reeve

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