In the days leading up to DocuDay LA and DocuDays NY, we at IDA will be introducing--and in some cases, re-introducing--our community to the filmmakers whose work has been nominated for an Academy Award for either Best Documentary Feature or Best Documentary Short Subject. As we did in conjunction with last summer's DocuWeeksTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, we have asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films--the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far, and the impact of an Academy Award nomination.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Jaimie D'Cruz, producer, of Exit Through the Gift Shop, (Dir.: Banksy), which is nominated in the Documentary Feature category.
Synopsis: This is the inside story of street art--a brutal and revealing account of what happens when fame, money and vandalism collide. Exit Through the Gift Shop follows an eccentric shopkeeper-turned-amateur filmmaker as he attempts to capture many of the world's most infamous vandals on camera, only to have a British stencil artist named Banksy turn the camcorder back on its owner, with wildly unexpected results. One of the most provocative films about art ever made, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a fascinating study of low-level criminality, comradeship and incompetence.
By turns shocking, hilarious and absurd, this is an enthralling modern-day fairytale... with bolt-cutters.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?
Jaimie D'Cruz: I started out as a journalist, writing and editing an underground music and street culture magazine called Touch. With great access to so many interesting people and incredible untold stories, it seemed like a natural progression from writing to making films. It was actually quite a difficult transition because the people who commission documentaries for British television are not particularly interested in untold stories from the underbelly, and are much more interested in formats and celebrities.
IDA:What inspired you to make Exit Through the Gift Shop?
JD: The idea for Exit came from Banksy. Despite being notoriously secretive andobsessively anonymous, and having turned down an apparently endless queue of filmmakers over the years, he had inexplicably found himself allowing an eccentric Frenchman called Thierry Guetta to follow him around with a camera. When Banksy realised that Thierry was not quite the filmmaker he purported to be, he decided that he ought to try to make Thierry's street art documentary himself.
IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?
JD: Getting Thierry's tapes off him in the first place was quite a challenge--but not as challenging as watching them. We started off with two ideas: that Thierry's years of filming street artists would yield a priceless treasure trove of documentary footage, and that if Thierry was to do his own art show, the results might be interesting. Both ideas proved to be sound ones, but not in the way we originally imagined.
IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production,production and post-production processes?
JD: The vision for the film was constantly evolving during production. There was no real pre-production period--though I guess you could argue that Thierry's 10 years of filming street artists all over the world was a kind of unconventional (and unintentional) pre-production period. As far as my own involvement went, we hit the ground running, filming Thierry's debut art show and delving into his boxes (and boxes) of tapes. I actually started off by shooting a load of talking-heads interviews with people, none of which ended up in the film. So this was very much a film made in the edit, with no real preconceived plan. We were working with a huge amount of existing footage, none of which was labelled or in any kind of order, so we were constantly surprised, entertained and challenged by the material we came across. And we didn't shoot the master interviews with Thierry until quite late on, as we had to go through the lengthy process of building a story from 10 years of footage before we could work out what questions we needed to ask Thierry. Thierry's revelations during these interviews (for example, he never watched his own material) would then re-inform sequences we had already cut, and this would in turn inspire further questions. And of course when Thierry embarked on his own art career, the results were wildly unexpected, to put it mildly. We were cutting a film which follows Thierry becoming an artist while Thierry was in the process of becoming a genuinely notorious artist. It was not so much art imitating life as art running furiously to try to keep up with life.
IDA: As you've screened Exit Through the Gift Shop--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?
JD: Audience reactions have been incredible wherever we have shown the film. Having spent two years hidden away in a blacked-out room making the film in conditions of complete secrecy, it was a bit scary to show the film to anyone at all, to be honest--and a genuine revelationto find that people actually liked it! The most unexpected thing about the audience reaction has been the intensity of the speculation that the film isn't real. It reminds me of that old comedy line, "Just because I'm paranoid, it doesn't mean people aren't following me..." Exitdoes tell an unbelievable story, but it's all completely true.
IDA: Where were you when you first heard about your Academy Award nomination?
JD: I was with a few close members of the team watching on a laptop as the nominations were announced live from LA--this was around lunchtime in the UK. The longest fiveminutes of my life began when the nominations fanfare ended without them actually mentioning the Feature Doc category! As we Googled frantically, a friend called from LA to tell us we'd been nominated, but of course we didn't believe him till we saw it officially listed on the Academy website.
IDA: Although it's only been a month since the announcement, how do you anticipate this nomination will impact your career as a filmmaker?
JD: I have no idea yet, but I do hope it means that I will now be able to get more interest in films from the underbelly, which are still the only stories that interest me.
IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?
JD: Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line was a revelation when I went to see it in the cinema back in 1989. The way he peels away layer after layer to reveal the story without overtly coming down on one side or the other was amazing and powerful, as was his then revolutionary use of dramatized sequences and music. I also love Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans. Funnily enough I think Capturing the Friedmans shares some similarities with Exit in that it is largely based on existing footage, and it leaves you feeling baffled.
Exit Through the Gift Shop will be screening Saturday, February 26, at 10:30 p.m. as part of DocuDay LA at the Writers Guild of America Theater in Beverly Hills, and at 1:45 p.m. at DocuDayNY at The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan.