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By Daniel Lammin
23rd August 2015

There probably hasn’t been as controversial a figure in the art world over the past decade as Banksy. Working as a graffiti artist and somehow keeping his identity a secret, his work has brought into question ideals of art and commerce, what classifies as art and the ownership of a work of public art. Possibly the finest example of this was his month-long residency in New York in 2013, a series of new works presented each day at a new location on the buildings and streets of the city. Using footage posted online as Banksy’s fans raced across New York tracking down his work before it was stolen, destroyed or taken away, director Chris Moukarbel has constructed ‘Banksy Does New York’, a "user-generated film" which takes a guerrilla look at this extraordinary and controversial artistic event.

In October 2013, Banksy completed an artistic residency and presented ‘Better Out than In’, where he presented a new work on the streets of New York every day. The location of each artwork would be given with a cryptic clue online, making it a kind of treasure hunt for his fans. As well as the graffiti art he is most known for, the show also featured other forms, including diorama and digital art. With Banksy remaining anonymous and his work being placed on the street for everyone, a struggle emerges between art dealers seeking possession of the public art, opportunists taking it to sell, authorities determined to arrest Banksy and remove the works and his fans trying desperately to catch them before they potentially disappear. Encouraging his fans to capture everything online, his followers create a vast digital web covering the show and the many controversies around it.


With the main subject totally absent outside of cryptic online posts, Moukarbel instead focuses on the many characters and bizarre dramas surrounding the residency. The film has so many balls in the air, but manages to keep them all airborne, driven by a frenetic energy as it moves between the myriad of sources. Each artwork is given ample attention, but what makes the film so fascinating are the responses to the artwork and the questions they raise, both in their content and in their very existence. Banksy’s work is technically illegal and graffiti is seen as a social problem in New York, regardless of the artist. Its position as public art also makes it a target for people to vandalise or take the works, many making a lot of money out of them. In a way, this seems to fall straight into Banksy’s hands – his work is created to provoke, either with its content or its location, and though you never see him, he stands in the shadows throughout Moukarbel’s film, a dark ringmaster overseeing the circus he’s created.

As a piece of filmmaking, there’s dynamism and immediacy to ‘Banksy Does New York’ that makes it a much more thrilling experience than you would expect. Because the footage is captured in real time, the film is driven forward by a visual sense of constant motion. It’s edited at a frantic pace, the user-generated footage complemented by photographs of the works, interviews with art and social experts and excerpts from Banksy’s website covering the show. Moukarbel is also on the ground expanding on the user-generated footage, so many story threads that might have remained unresolved end up running their course.

There’s dynamism and immediacy to ‘Banksy Does New York’ that makes it a much more thrilling experience than you would expect.

This isn’t refined documentary filmmaking by any means, but ‘Banksy Does New York’ is an energising and exciting film nonetheless. For someone like me, who knew very little about Banksy, it’s a great crash head-first into his work and the discussion around it (though I haven’t seen the acclaimed documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ which he directed). Chris Moukarbel has done an excellent job wrangling all this material into a cohesive documentary, especially one as enormously entertaining as this.

Even though Madman have only released the film on DVD and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, this doesn’t work against the film in any way. Because of the varying quality in the user-generated footage, standard definition serves the film pretty well, and its doubtful high definition would have been that much of an improvement. The picture is sharp and detailed, moving with ease between different types of photography, and the audio track has a surprising amount of kick for a 2.0 track.

The only extra included on this disc is a theatrical trailer.

RELEASE DATE: 26/08/2015
RUN TIME: 1h 19m
DIRECTOR: Chris Moukarbel
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