And the Oscar goes to — the guy in the monkey mask?
That awkward yet beguiling scenario could happen if the documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" continues its unlikely surge through this award season, which includes being placed on the Academy Awards shortlist.
FOR THE RECORD:
"Exit Through the Gift Shop": An article about the documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" in the Dec. 16 Envelope section said the street artist known as Banksy sometimes wears a simian mask. The artist did have a monkey mask with him in the film but is not seen wearing it. The article also said that Thierry Guetta, who was filming Banksy and the street artist culture, became a successful artist himself and then turned his film footage over to Banksy, who reconstructed it. Guetta gave the footage over to Banksy first, and then as he worked with it, Banksy simultaneously chronicled Guetta's own rise. —
"If it were to get nominated and there was an indication that Banksy would attend the ceremonies, we might have to ask some questions," says Bruce Davis, the executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, speaking of the film's director, a pseudonymous street artist who never shows his face in public settings and sometimes wears a simian mask. For now, while the film is on the shortlist of 15 contenders vying to be one of the five nominees, "it would be a little odd to start patting this one down," Davis says.
And yet, the questions that have helped propel the film to this point may ultimately inhibit academy members from voting for it.
Here's the story that they must swallow, as is conveyed in the documentary: a bumbling, Los Angeles-based Frenchman named Thierry Guetta was obsessively filming street artists, those renegades who usually use graffiti and illegal methods to produce urban art, until he met one of the more famous ones, the mysterious Banksy. The British artist let Guetta tag along, but when Banksy saw a cut of Guetta's film, he hired an editor to reconstruct the footage and create his own documentary, one that depicts street artists and places Guetta at its center, which made sense because the Frenchman had become a successful street artist himself in the meantime.
As the film rolled out earlier this year, the rumor mill began spinning: Banksy had dreamed up Guetta, or he was Guetta, or director Spike Jonze had concocted the whole thing or, as the New York Times called it, Banksy had created a new genre, the "prankumentary."
"It's not something we stoked; we just did not dispel it," says the film's sales agent John Sloss, who knows a good marketing hook when he sees it. After benefiting from the controversy, to the tune of $3 million at the box office and counting, Sloss and the film's producers recognized that they had to now dispel the myths "if we wanted it to be nominated," he says. "We had our work cut out for us."
To that end, a series of interviews and screenings were set up in which Jaimie D'Cruz, one of the film's producers, and the film's editor, Chris King, engaged in Q&As to give the film credibility.
"I'm keen for people to know it's a real documentary," D'Cruz says by phone. "But trying to prove something is real when it's real can be difficult."
Sloss says he would feel "compromised" if "Exit" turned out to be something other than what it presents itself as. As does King: "It would kill me, wouldn't it?" he asks. "Who would ring Chris King if Chris King were the documentary filmmaker who put on this enormous hoax?"
Both King and D'Cruz declined to say if they would attend the Oscars in place of Banksy (which is permissible by the academy), as they did earlier this month at the International Documentary Assn. awards (the film didn't win); they say it's too early to consider. Asked if Banksy might attend, they say that they can't predict his whereabouts. D'Cruz, in fact, provides an answer that only provokes more questions.
"I hate to be evasive," he says, "but I don't think it's good to talk about him as a person."