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‘Banksy Most Wanted’ Directors E-Chat During the Pandemic, Tribeca Film Festival

Banksy Most Wanted, Aurélia Rouvier, Seamus Haley, Tribeca Film Festival,

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.

Girl With Balloon, Banksy Most Wanted, Banksy, Sotheby's, Girl With Balloon Shredded

‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ “Girl With Balloon,” Banksy, ‘Girl With Balloon’ Shredded at Sotheby’s auction (https://www.engadget.com/2018-10-18-banksy-girl-with-balloon-meant-to-be-shredded-completely.html)

What inspired you to do a film about Banksy? 

Aurélia :
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, Seamus Haley, Banksy Most Wanted, Tribeca Film Festival, Banksy

Aurélia Rouvier, Interview of directors Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley Interview, ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ (courtesy Cross Border Films and Scarlett Production)

 

Seamus :
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 Seamus Haley, Banksy Most Wanted, Tribeca Film Festival, Banksy

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?
 
Aurélia :
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.
Aurélia Rouvier, Seamus Haley,Seasons Greetings, Banksy, Port Talbot, Wales, UK, John Brandler, Banksy Most Wanted, Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley

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)

 
Seamus :
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 the Pierced Eardrum, COVID-19

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.
 
Aurélia :
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.
 
Seamus :
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

Banksy in lockdown (courtesy of Banksy on Instagram, courtesy of the site)


When did both of you first learn about Banksy?
 
Aurélia :
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.
 
Seamus :
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.

‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ a Tribeca Film Festival Review

The Flower Thrower, Love is in the Air, Banksy, Banksy Most Wanted, Bethlehem, West Bank

“Love is in the Air,” or “The Flower Thrower,” originally in 2005, Ash Salon Street, Bethlehem, West Bank, (courtesy of the site) ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley.

The “romantic” reality of the starving artist exploited by predatory promoters has been turned on its head by the graffiti artist, political activist and filmmaker Banksy. Over the past two decades Banksy has bested art dealers and beat them at their own game. In the process he has hyped up his own notoriety and sweetened his Robin-hood-like credibility by remaining anonymous to all. That is, all except the few sworn to secrecy who are privileged to be his inner circle.

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 (photo from the film)

Banksy Most Wanted, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley, is a Tribeca Film Festival offering that I screened recently. I enjoy that Banksy thrives on anonymity, travels the world and uses buildings as his canvases. He paints and stencils ironic hieroglyphs, insuring they are accessible to the multitudes who appreciate his stark images and socially important messages. Cleverly, rakishly he tantalizes and exploits art dealers who would traffic his work like vultures.

Banksy Most Wanted, Show Me the Monet, Banksy

“Show Me Monet,” ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of the site)

In their straight-shooting documentary Rouvier and Healey visit a multitude of locations. Using a mixture of video news clips and their own cinematography, they investigate the Banksy ethos with depth and humor. First, they chronicle his origins in Bristol, UK. Next, they trace his evolution from the 1990s. For then he painted by hand. Subsequently, he decided upon spray painting. With it he could cover more mileage. Therefore, upping the ante by preparing stencils in his studio beforehand, he left off labor intensity. Most probably, stenciling offered the ease and speed to get in and out of locations without detection.

Banksy Most Wanted, Brexit Dover Mural, Banksy

Brexit mural in Dover by Banksy, ‘Banksy Most Wanted’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the film)

More recently, Banksy’s evolution extends to outrageous, live installations. Irreverently, he painted a live elephant in Los Angeles riling animal rights activits. For the sheer cheek of it, he unleashed 200 rats in a London gallery. And with a nod to her sainthood, he embellished a portrait of Mother Teresa with the words “moisturize everyday.”

Identifying his most famous works in Bristol, London, Paris and New York, Rouvier and Healey relate the impact of these Banksys on the surrounding community. In one instance a town litigated a dealer who took “their Banksy” which had great significance to them. They refused to allow him to steal the honor of Banksy selecting Port Talbot, Wales as a site for his art.

Seasons Greetings, Banksy, Port Talbot, Wales, UK, John Brandler, Banksy Most Wanted, Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley

Banksy’s mural “Season’s Greetings” in Port Talbot, UK. John Brandler, who bought the piece for more than 100,000 Euros. ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of the site)

To establish ownership the dealer purchased a garage wall with the Banksy located in Port Talbot, Wales. Subsequently, he removed it with cranes to carve the images from the concrete to auction them off. As a result, the town sued him. During the litigation he discovered the art’s value to the community. Indeed, they believed Banksy had chosen their town to bless with his work.

Interestingly, the court found that the town’s freeholder rights as a community superseded the dealer’s free-holder rights. This was a Banksy triumph for the little people and a gut-wrenching blow to the stomachs and wallets of art dealers everywhere.

Seasons Greetings, Port Talbot, Wales, Banksy, John Brandler, Banksy Most Wanted

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 (courtesy of the film)

The filmmakers explore a few of Banksy’s satiric, temporary art installations. For example, they revisit the 2008 Porta-Potty Stonehenge.  With self-demeaning brio, Banksy dubbed it “A Pile Of Crap.” Likewise, the 2015 Dismaland Bemusement Park offered a tortured happy rides with macabre convolution. Dismaland was a “sinister twist” on Disneylands everywhere. Banksy described it as “a family theme park unsuitable for children.”

Dismaland Bemusement Park, Banksy, Banksy Most Wanted

Dismaland Bemusement Park, ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the site)

“Dismaland Bemusement Park,” ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the site)

Additionally, the directors highlight his adventurous pranks. One of these incurred self-shredding the print “Girl With Balloon” at a Sotheby auction right after the banging gavel closed the purchase.

Girl With Balloon, Banksy Most Wanted, Banksy, Sotheby's, Girl With Balloon Shredded

‘Banksy Most Wanted’, Girl With Balloon, Banksy, Girl With Balloon Shredded directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the site)

Throughout, the filmmakers question the Banksy ethos. His stenciled works increasingly find their way into areas of economic repression and cultural upheaval. Some appear in the West Bank. These, include the restored Walled Off Hotel positioned across the street from the Israeli-Palestinian West Bank barrier. All of them raise questions. Indeed, Banksy fans and critics alike interpret them as an addendum to his political activism. And they label him a postulate critic of the dominant powers who would prevent others from securing a viable place at the table of life.

Walled Off Hotel, Banksy Most Wanted, West Bank

“The Walled Off Hotel,” ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of the site)

Banksy Most Wanted, Banksy Kitten in Gaza

‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ Banksy Kitten in Gaza (courtesy of the site)

With his works having become ubiquitous, Banksy globally imprints his perspective to sound the underlying truths of our reality. And his searing and irreverent statements against imperialism, capitalism, earth destruction, climate change, consumerism, poverty, corporate fascism, racism empower the viewer.

However, all is not anti-establishment. Occasionally, he counterbalances these themes and subjects with images of love, innocence and endurance. For the documentarians focus on how he makes his guerilla art a velvet weapon to war against killing and uplift peace. Furthermore, they reveal how his dichotomous images heighten the culture’s oblivion to their being accessories to enslaving and harming Third World Countries. With singularity and precision the directors emphasize how he employs juxtaposition in his creations. And they do justice to Banksy’s indictment of the West’s contributions to crimes against humanity in its greedy value of money over people.

Banksy's, Rodin, West Bank

Banksy’s Take-off on Rodin in Gaza West Bank (courtesy of the site)

Throughout the visual explication of Banksy’s subject matter and themes, the filmmakers delve into his message to the art world. Another lucid indictment emerges. For Banksy, great artistry moves beyond boundaries and walls of brick and mortar. It remains exclusive of hyped-up, artificiality and “Tulip mania” trends.

For this reason he has left the art world spinning in circles. As they chop up walls to obtain his works in the hope of making a bundle, he intentionally dislocates their obsession. Most recently, to thwart the rapacity of dealers, owners of buildings have become Banksy fans. They refuse to sell. Instead, they plexiglass their Banksys to protect them. With an irony of their own, they reinforce Banksy’s overarching instruction to street people. Art exists everywhere

Banksy, Bristol, UK, Phone Lovers

Banksy’s Phone Lovers, Bristol, UK (courtesy of the site)

Over the years Banksy has garnered himself and a beleaguered art world a delicious, capitalistic profit. Reputedly his worth totals up to a rumored $50 million. So, for those who admire his anti-capitalistic, anti-consumer spirit, think again. Perhaps, this anonymous rogue doth protest too much. However, the vital question remains.

Who is Banksy? For me peaking behind the anonymity becomes a crucial high point of the film. With incisive interviews, the directors weave in and out to explore three possible identities. And these they unravel, playing with the uncertainty of facts and details of “reliable” narrators. Afterward, they suggest a fourth possible Banksy.

Banksy, West Bank

Banksy in the West Bank Barrier Wall, a guard tower converted to an amusement ride (courtesy of the site)

Clearly, the directors love their subject. And they have done their homework. They’ve presented the diorama that his anonymity has served a charitable purpose . Yet, they’ve proven Banksy also serves his own interests.

Thanks to his anonymity, others have been able to claim his work, either legally or emotionally. And his fans love adding to his aura by fantasizing about who is hiding behind the name. These investigations reveal a novel perspective of the artist, his salient/sardonic world view, his links with the music scene and his entrepreneurial acumen. They also expose the importance of identity to art and society and our need to triumph over invisibility.

Through the testimonies of those who know him and have worked with him, but also of those who exploit him, hunt him down and claim him, Banksy Most Wanted paints a profound portrait of “one” of the foremost artists of our time. It concludes with the vitality of the spirit that channels through the group of artists that effect Banksys. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Banksy during the pandemic.

Apparently, Banksy is staying indoors following the UKs sheltering in place lockdown orders. However his famed mural “The Girl With A Pierced Eardrum” has received a COVID-19 update which includes a blue surgical mask.

Banksy, Girl With the Pierced Earring, COVID-19

Banksy, “Girl With A Pierced Earring,” COVID-19 update (courtesy of the site)

First appearing on the side of a building in Bristol’s Harbourside in 2014, this Banksy spoofs Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring.” But the earring incorporates Banksy’s thoughtful wall selection, an outdoor security alarm. Banky’s “girl” sports not a “pearl,” but a ‘stretcher’ supplied by the security alarm.

Wild speculation deems Banksy broke the lockdown and sneaked out to spray paint his work to give a kick in the pants to those who will tour his graffiti most probably with masks and appropriate social distancing when Bristol “opens.” However, fans argue the COVID-19 mural can’t be by Banksy who usually reveals his works on his Instagram account.

Banksy in lockdown

Banksy in lockdown (courtesy of the site)

For official COVID-19 works Banksy, on his account you will find rats running amuck and making themselves at home in his bathroom. It’s captioned: “My wife hates it when I work from home.”  Banksy’s irreverence during this pandemic makes this Plague go down a bit easier. #Banksy

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