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‘Banksy Most Wanted’ is no ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’

Tribeca (Virtual) Film Festival

Just over ten years ago saw the release of Exit Through the Gift Shop, one of the last decade’s wildest and best documentaries. The film was both about and directed by, the controversial and anonymous street artist Banksy

The conceit of 2010’s Exit Through the Gift Shop was that French artist Thierry Guetta had set out to make a documentary about Banksy and other street artists. But throughout the film, documentarian Guetta and subject Banksy gradually switch places, as Guetta assumes the persona of the street artist Mister Brainwash, while Banksy becomes the director of the movie. Exactly how much the whole project was a put-on remains controversial to this day but fits in perfectly with Banksy’s established mysterious persona. 

Now, a decade later, we have another documentary about Banksy, called Banksy Most Wanted, which was to debut this month at the Tribeca Film Festival and has been made available at the festival’s press-and-industry screening platform. 

The new film, directed by  French filmmakers Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley, is much more conventional than Exit Through the Gift Shop and also, predictably, is much less illuminating. 

The film, clocking in at just over 80 minutes, is both an examination of Banksy’s work, and also an investigation into the artist’s identity. Both elements are fine on their own, but the filmmakers might have been wise to concentrate on one of those things or the other only. 

Banksy Most Wanted, which is in both English and French, begins with the stunt the artist pulled in London in 2018, when he presented a painting called Girl With Balloon at a fancy Sotheby’s art auction in London, and then executed a mechanism to shred the painting mid-auction (the partially shredded painting sold anyway, for $1.4 million.) 

Utilizing a group of art-world talking heads, the film looks at the ways that Banksy has thumbed his nose at the stuffy art world over the years. It also points out the not-unfamiliar dichotomy of an anti-establishment outsider becoming wealthy. Banksy does not appear to have cooperated in any way with the documentary. 

There’s also much discussion of how Banksy has become, possibly, the most important artist in the world, even though no one knows who he is, and he’s managed to keep the secret for an uncommonly long time. So the movie’s other objective is to look into some of the theories about Banksy’s identity. 

And it does some odd things in doing so, including interviewing a profiler who’s normally trying to unmask serial killers. The movie seems to think this is cool and humorous, but I’m not so sure, especially since the efficacy of those profiling techniques have been seriously questioned.

Suspects include a couple of music industry figures associated with the artist- Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack and Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz – but the thing about musicians is that there’s often a clear record of exactly what city they’re in at any given time, and those guys have sometimes not been where Banksy’s urban street art has appeared. The other major suspect is artist Robin Gunningham, and while he’s probably the most likely one, the film makes no definitive conclusion. Other theories- is Banksy is multiple people? A woman?- are also raised. 

The film isn’t bad, exactly, but it doesn’t provide a lot of new insight to those who are familiar with the Banksy phenomenon. It might have been more interesting if it had committed entirely to being about the identity investigation, or about Banksy’s career in general. 

Banksy Most Wanted does not yet have distribution.

Editor’s Note: In the wake of the postponement this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Goomba Stomp is reviewing select fest entries that elected to premiere digitally for critics.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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