Who owns street art? Who owns Banksy’s street art stencilled on the Israeli West Bank Barrier Wall?
Marco Proserpio’s documentary investigates these questions in his revealing film about Palestine and street art crime, The Man Who Stole Banksy. The Adelaide Film Festival screening documentary is told largely through the eyes of a Palestinian taxi driver, Walid, who stole a Banksy artwork, which offended him, to sell back to the West.
Proserpio says that Walid has seen the film and “seems happy about it” but he hasn’t received feedback from the secretive artist known as Banksy, who was recently in the news for self-destructing his Girl With Balloon painting at a Sotheby’s auction. “As for Banksy no, no feedback from him,” Proserpio says. “And I don’t know him, or who he is.”
Proserpio answers The Adelaide Review‘s questions about the film in the following Q+A.
You arrived in Palestine in 2012 and didn’t plan to shoot a film about Banksy and street art. What kind of film did you have in mind when you arrived?
At the time I was filming some art workshops for kids in a deserted area outside Ramallah, a very poor area. Filming in such a brutal situation made me think about the strength [that] images of that kind would have if I took them back to the western world. We’re bombarded by so many images today that I really don’t know how much an image of a young kid literally living in the trash can move us at this point. It’s like we’ve become numbed to the suffering of others. So I was trying to find another way to picture Palestinians. I was looking for a different story and then, by chance, I met Walid.
Walid was the first person you met in Palestine and he told you the story about how he had a Banksy at home. Did you believe him? And did you instantly know you wanted to put him in your film?
He was the first guy I met after I crossed the checkpoint and entered Palestine. He told me about this weird story of how he removed the entire side of a house. At first I didn’t believe him but he was such a lovely character we ended up spending some time together chatting and, yes, I immediately thought he was a terrific character for a documentary about art.
You decided this story about Banksy and Walid would be the perfect story to show the situation in Palestine as you wanted to get to know the locals. Do you think the Palestinian people are often overlooked when documentaries about the conflict are made, even if they are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause?
Generally speaking, documentaries about Palestinians focus all of their attention on stories of deep suffering, killing and imprisonment. All [these] things still happen around there on a daily basis. So, yes, it makes sense. On the other hand, I was looking for a way to picture them as human beings, not victims. [I was] using Banksy as a tool to grab the attention of a young Western audience, so that they can discover something about this brutal and unjust situation.
You chose Iggy Pop to narrate the film as his voice is wise but punk, were you shocked he agreed to do it a few hours after you sent an email request? And if he couldn’t do it, who were your other choices?
I was quite shocked when he got back to us saying: “Yes, I’m doing it.” I think he understood the spirit and the aim of the film and did a wonderful job. Honestly, Iggy was the first and last name that came to my mind.
The Banksy piece in question, Donkey Documents, is considered insulting to some Palestinians as calling someone a donkey is a slur. Do you think the slur was an oversight by Banksy and is a reference to Simpson and his Donkey? And what is your view on the piece?
No, I don’t think this was an oversight by Banksy. Banksy was just trying to underline the situation of Palestinians, whose IDs are checked everywhere they go, harassed in so many ways by the Israeli army. The reference to Simpson was just an assumption, a provocation if you will, or even another way to discuss cultural colonisation and conflict. The Banksy piece immediately got my attention at that time and I was very curious about the misunderstanding between the artist and the locals, a sort of clashing of cultures.
While the film features a lot of food for thought; is there a takeaway message you want viewers to come away with or was your aim to show and not lecture?
We want a world without checkpoints and fucking walls.
The Man Who Stole Banksy
Adelaide Film Festival
GU Vmax on Saturday, October 13,
12pm and Wednesday, October 17,