Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Banksy lies low at Berlin Film Festival

Emma Jones
BBC News reporter in Berlin

Exit Through The Gift Shop
Banksy is notoriously secretive about his identity

It's the long-awaited interview with British street artist Banksy.

The only problem is that he's just a dark silhouette, surrounded by some of his famous pieces of subversive art.

Even for a screening of his first film, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Banksy can't risk turning up at the Berlin Film Festival in case he is prosecuted.

Instead, he addresses critics via a filmed address before the start of the movie.

"I'd like to start by saying that I never intended to make a film," he says, his voice altered to avoid recognition.

"And some people might say that I've succeeded in that ambition."

He describes the film as "the first street art disaster movie" but Exit Through The Gift Shop has been rapturously received by some critics at the film festival.

I guess my ambition was to make a film that would do for graffiti art what Karate Kid did for martial arts

It's a documentary about French cameraman Thierry Guetta, who became obsessed with filming street artists like Banksy. After following them around for years, Guetta - who had no artistic experience - turned himself into one of them.

He now calls himself Mister Brainwash and has sold hundreds of pieces of his art. He recently designed the cover for Madonna's Celebration album.

Narrated by Rhys Ifans, and punctuated by Banksy's dry wit - although always filmed in silhouette of course - it is funny as well as fascinating.

"I guess my ambition was to make a film that would do for graffiti art what Karate Kid did for martial arts," Banksy said.

"A film that would get every school kid in the world picking up a spray can and having a go. As it turns out, I think we may have made a film that does for street art what Jaws did for water skiing."

Joke banknotes

The documentary follows the rise of the phenomenon, focussing particularly on Banksy's worldwide reputation and audacious work which could be seen from New Orleans to the Palestinian segregation wall in the West Bank.

There are some memorable scenes, including footage of Banksy planting a figure resembling a Guantanamo Bay detainee in Disneyland and showing Guetta thousands of banknotes with Princess Diana's face on them instead of the Queen.

Initially he had planned to hand them out as a joke.

"But I realised we'd forged a million quid and I could get ten years in jail," was his pithy summary of the situation.

Lucy Walker
Lucy Walker's film Waste Land is being shown at the festival

But it's plain that what started as a counter cultural movement is now part of mainstream, with Banksy's works in demand from private collectors. Mister Brainwash made himself famous overnight thanks to clever marketing.

"Andy Warhol was replicating images to show they were meaningless," says Banksy. "And now thanks to Mister Brainwash, they're definitely meaningless."

Films with art at their heart are a recurring theme at this year's festival.

Andy Warhol's transvestite muse, Candy Darling - also the subject of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side - is the subject of a documentary, Beautiful Darling.

It explores the scene surrounding Warhol's film-making in the early 1970s, and the life of Candy, born Jimmy Slattery, who was determined to turn herself into a female movie icon.

She was immensely successful, with her face inspiring Warhol's art and his films until her death in 1974.

And one of the most moving stories screening in Berlin is that of Waste Land by British director Lucy Walker, which already won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance film festival.

Contemporary art

With a previous working title of Art is Garbage, Walker follows artist Vik Muniz's work at Jardim Gramacho in Brazil, the world's biggest landfill site.

Known for making contemporary art out of things like sugar, Muniz makes portraits of some of the recycling workers who spend their life around the tip. The portraits are made out of refuse and Muniz used the proceeds to invest back into their community.

"He has brought us pride and helped better our society," says Tiao, one of Muniz's subjects, who has been brought to the festival.

Art, according to someone like Muniz, has a transformative as well as a subversive power.

Banksy might agree too, although with his tongue placed firmly in his cheek.

"I think it's a good film," he says of his film before the screening, "as long as you have very low expectations."

Journalists sitting in the auditorium must have wondered if he was there too - as ever having the last laugh.

The Berlin Film Festival runs until the 21 February.

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