Banksy’s mural ‘Girl With the Pierced Eardrum,’ featured on city graffiti tours in Bristol, UK in a 2019 photo. From ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of Cross Borders Films and Scarlett Production
I screened and reviewed Banksy Most Wanted as a Tribeca Film Festival offering, which appears on https://blogcritics.org/ and in a longer review: https://caroleditosti.com/2020/04/29/banksy-most-wanted-a-tribeca-film-festival-review/
I enjoyed the film which raised questions about the confluence of Banky’s art and Banksy’ anonymity. Would his art have the power it does if his identity is disclosed? The film, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley delves into the Banksy myth and reality with a profound and in-depth portrait of a man who performs a great service to humanity which happens to be illegal. I had the opportunity after screening and writing the review to chat with directors via email about the film and how they arrived at their subject.
What inspired you to do a film about Banksy?
First, a deep admiration for his work. Then a fascination for his anonymity maintained for more than 25 years. How can he stay anonymous in the kind of society we are living in nowadays? Probably because a lot of people want him to stay anonymous. His approach is part of a counter-culture, stands on the side of resistance, and most people respect that. They admire his ability to stay invisible, and yet very visible, when we have so few ways to hide.
On the other side, some think it is a marketing trick, that Banksy is looking for the world’s attention, that he plays a game. They want to challenge him to his game; they want to unmask him.
These two positions are part of Banksy’s history and feed his myth. So we thought it would be interesting to portray the artist by following this thread. Our intention has always been to talk about his work, his irreverence, his political and social commitment, as much as the hysteria that his work and his mystery triggers… So each of the investigations by the journalists who had tried to unmask him has been an entry into revealing a facet of the artist.
Aurélia Rouvier, Interview of directors Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley Interview, ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ (courtesy Cross Border Films and Scarlett Production)
It was Aurélia who had the idea to question anonymity in art through the portrait of the most famous artist, Banksy. I only arrived to the project once the script was written.
For this film, I was inspired in part by Marc Singer’s film, Dark Days, released in 2000. It’s a documentary about a homeless community living and dying in the tunnels of the New York City subway and fighting to get out. The atmosphere is very dark and brutal; it perfectly transcribes that of the new millennium 2000s with the advent of hip hop and graffiti.
It is also the year that I turned twenty – it is at this time that I began to have a political conscience, to want to make films, especially with my skate-boarding friends. The street was our space. It was during this period that Banksy would have begun to be heard, denouncing certain injustices.
Dark Days begins with a subjective view of the railway tracks, lit by the flashlight, gradually discovering this underground world. With Aurélia, we used this technique that puts the spectator in the place of the protagonist.
Seamus Haley, Interview of directors Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley Interview, ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ (courtesy Cross Border Films and Scarlett Production)
If you discovered his/her true identity, would you reveal it? Why? Why not?
If you think of a Banksy piece, like the one he did in a bathroom during the lockdown for example. If the minute after you have seen it, you can imagine the man doing the stencil, because you know his face, his name, you know in which town the house is, you know that his wife and his 13-year-old son or daughter is probably behind the door.. it is immediately less fun.
In a field like art that involves the imagination and reflection, I think it is good not knowing everything and have space to project onto. So, no I would not reveal who he is.
I think, especially at this present and difficult time, we aspire to fantasy and the fictional world. James Straffon, an artist interviewed in the documentary says that “people like to feel that there is some kind of rescue just around the corner, there is hope somehow.” That is probably why a superhero character like Banky is so popular.
Banksy’s mural “Season’s Greetings” in Port Talbot, UK with its buyer John Brandler, who bought the piece for more than 100,000 Euros, in a 2019 photo. ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (Cross Borders Films and Scarlett Production)
At the very beginning, I wanted to know, then, while reading the script, I let myself get carried away, forgetting my interest in Banksy’s identity. I was much more interested in what Banksy was bringing to people: to the grandmother of an industrial city who saw from her window “her Banksy” every morning, to journalists who want to be known in history as the person who revealed his/her identity, his alter-ego who travels around England to tear his graffiti off the walls…
This story endures because we do not know the identity of the artist. It is exciting and we should not forget that the imagination is always more creative than reality. Like Steeve Lazarides says so well about Banksy’s anonymity : “It is like telling a child that Santa Claus does not exist!”
Banksy, “Girl With A Pierced Eardrum ,” COVID-19 update (courtesy of the site)
Are there any elements of the subject that you wanted to explore but didn’t have the time or money? If so, can you discuss? If not, explain why.
If we had more time, I would have loved to focus more on the Banksy sprayed on the Bataclan door, and investigate its theft. Because of the event to which Banksy paid tribute, and the way he did it, on this emergency exit, with this silhouette that looks like mourners, the stencil was very important for people. More than others, this one was our French Banksy, and I can’t still understand that it has disappeared.
We would have loved to have been able to interview Banksy himself, but how to be sure that it is the real Bansky?
In our film, Steeve Lazarides explains that when they were working together, they sent a friend to answer TV interviews. By sending an imposter, it made the idea of anonymity even more clear as well as the relationship between the individual and the artist.
Banksy says it very well in his film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Mr. Brainwash, the “hero” of the film, is the caricature of Bansky; a kind of alter ego.
Banksy in lockdown (courtesy of Banksy on Instagram, courtesy of the site)
When did both of you first learn about Banksy?
My awareness of Banksy came. I think it dates from his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, as I have strangely no memories of his exhibit in Los Angeles, “Barely Legal”! But the moment when I really loved him was when he set this pop-up stall outside Central Park in NY selling original Banksys for only 60 dollars. I think only two or three people had bought them. Five years before his prank at Sotheby’s, Banksy was already questioning the value we put on art.
The first time I heard about Banksy was in 2006. A director friend of mine gave me his book “Wall and Piece.” The message was fresh and politically incorrect and I was hooked.