A new film about and allegedly directed by the mysterious English street artist Banksy is coming to U.S. theaters next week after being met with equal parts acclaim and mystique at film festivals earlier this year.
Premiering in January as a "secret screening" at the Sundance Film Festival, "Exit Through The Gift Shop" caused a considerable stir among festival goers (read a synposis of the film here). Banksy - known for his politically-minded graffiti - arrived in Park City prior to Sundance, scattering his art around town. Then seemed to disappear, with fest director John Cooper simply reading a letter from Banksy at the film's premiere:
Ladies and gentlemen, and publicists:
Trying to make a movie which truly conveys the raw thrill and expressive power of art is very difficult. So we haven't bothered. Instead, this is simply an everyday tale of life, longing, and mindless vandalism. Everything you are about to see is true, especially the bit where we all lie.
Thanks for coming, please don't give away the ending on Twitter. And please, don't try copying any of this stuff at home, wait until you get to work.
Chatter around Park City was rampant after the film debuted. Who exactly is Bansky? Did he really direct the film? Is this a documentary or is it fiction? No consensus has been established since, and perhaps never will, but one thing seemed pretty clear: Whoever directed this movie, and whether it was real or not, it was really good. Topping indieWIRE's poll of the best films at Sundance and managing to become one of the highest ranked films in criticWIRE's short history, "Exit Through The Gift Shop" most certainly had potential. But that potential probably wouldn't be best realized through traditional means.
So, Cinetic Media's John Sloss, who represented rights to the film at Sundance (and then Berlin), decided to take matters into his own hands. In a first for the accomplished sales agent and rep, he's releasing the film himself.
"We did get a bunch of offers on the film," Sloss told indieWIRE yesterday, "And I don't think that should come as a surprise to anyone. But there's two things: One, I saw the impact of what Banksy did in Park City by going there before everyone arrived and how much publicity that created. And how much that could serve the theatrical release of the film. And I saw how controlling he was over the promotion of his work. So I just thought this is a highly unlikely project for a traditional distributor because not only is Banksy very controlling, but you can't talk to him. So it creates a bit of a challenge for traditional distribution. So that combined with the free promotion you get just by being involved with him just seemed to make it an intriguing prospect for us to put together a distribution company for."
Specifically for "Gift Shop," Sloss has launched a distribution entity called the Producers Distribution Agency. They raised a "sizeable chunk" of money to release it, and put together a team with Richard Abramowitz, Donna Daniels and Mark Schiller. They will give the film a platform release starting next Friday, April 16, when it will open in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The plan was announced just two weeks ago, giving Sloss and company a short window to build what a film like "Gift Shop" will need to succeed: word of mouth.
But Sloss is optimistic.
"We're opening April 16th and we've got great theaters," he said. "We've got the Lincoln Plaza and Sunshine in New York. We've got the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles. We've got three theaters in the Bay Area. And we'll just roll on from there. And the fact of the matter is that it is very soon. It might be a record for a film out of Sundance. But Banksy isn't doing any long lead press, so I'm not sure what sitting on the film or nuturing it was gonna do."
It is still unclear what, if anything, Banksy will do to to promote the film in its limited release. Sloss said that Banksy has been keenly involved in the creation of materials for the film, but Sloss wouldn't comment on the artist's involvement beyond that.
"I have no confirmation one way or the other," he said. "I really don't know to what extent he will be involved. I've never met him, and I don't expect I ever will."
Sloss is excited to see the questions that surrounded the film at Sundance expand to the general public and he hopes that that ambiguity will help the film succeed.
"People debate whether it's actually a documentary or not," he said. "I enjoy that debate, and I would hate to see the film cabined by the box that people put documentaries in. I think it's got commercial potential beyond the great majority of documentaries, and all I can ask is that the public gives it a full chance to realize that potential."
Check out the first five minutes of "Exit Through The Gift Shop" here.