From the Instructor
When Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by British street artist Banksy, hit theatres last summer, critics asked: Was it an actual documentary film, as promoted, or an elaborate hoax? Our class—“Documentary Film: History, Theory, and Form”—came to different conclusions. The inspiration for Ethan Dubois’s inventive essay emerged from class discussion when someone mentioned the word authenticity. He began to wonder not just whether the documentary was authentic, but what makes any piece of art “authentic.”
As Ethan’s paper demonstrates, the status of artistic authenticity is vexed, dependent upon a complex calculus of internal and external forces. Authenticity is especially tenuous for street art, which often divides its audience. To some, street art merits appreciation; to others, it is grounds for arrest. Banksy’s documentary shows how the art market further complicates the status of street art: If a hack like Exit’s protagonist can make a million bucks in a day, how does that affect the integrity of others’ artwork?
Ethan’s essay succeeds not only because it takes on an ambitious set of questions about the intersection of art and commerce, but because its lively pace sustains narrative interest. Logical, eloquent, and arresting, his argument engages the formal and theoretical complexities of documentary film and the modern desire for authenticity.
— MARISA MILANESE