Is Exit through the Gift Shop a documentary?
To answer this question we need to have an idea of what a documentary actually is. My definition is:
“Storytelling using moving pictures with or without audio depicting anything non-fictional using actual or re-created footage that claims to be factually accurate.”
The film uses moving pictures and audio to tell a story. The question is if it is fictional or not. If no events or characters in the film are staged for the purpose of the film then I would say that it is a documentary about graffiti, the artists, and the rise of Mr. Brainwash. However there is reason to believe that is not the case.
I don’t think this assignment is about arguing about how real the events of the film are. Most of the events have many witnesses. The real question is if the film portrays the main character Thierry Guetta in an honest way, or if it deliberately lies to its audience. If the filmmakers knowingly portray the protagonist in a dishonest way, making up his actions and presenting them as facts, then it doesn’t fit my definition of a documentary because it is no longer factually accurate.
The problem is that we don’t know if the filmmakers deliberately excluded parts of the story to create a character that isn’t who he is presented to be. One could wonder if Thierry really earned enough from his vintage store to finance the show and pay for his huge exhibition and crew. Because if he got financial help from someone in the documentary team without the documentary making that clear it’s no longer a portrayal of him raising to fame by himself like the documentary presents it to be
One could wonder if Thierry has been helped behind the scenes without the public knowing just to show how it’s possible for anyone to make big money from art even if they didn’t make it themselves. Maybe the purpose of the documentary isn’t to show his rise to fame, but rather how ridiculous the art world is, and how easily it can be fooled. But if that was the sole purpose, they could easily have included their deception in the film, and released it once the joke was over and they had proved what they wanted. Maybe the joke is still on us?
Just looking at Exit through the Gift Shop one cannot conclude that it is a hoax. Until someone involved with the creation admits otherwise or clear proof is presented, it is a documentary about graffiti artists with focus on Thierry Guetta and Banksy. And even if parts of it turn out to be set up, it will become a documentary about how easy it is to fool the art world instead.
I'm a freelance gaffer. I also do basic grip work.