The documentary genre is a tricky business, because it’s automatically assumed that any movie falling under that category is 100% truth, even if a lot of times you’re only getting one side of the story. So when you see a documentary that turns out to be a manufactured lie – like Casey Affleck’s “I’m Still Here” – it’s easy to feel betrayed. Since its premiere at Sundance, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether the events in “Exit Through the Gift Shop” are real or just an elaborate hoax devised by its director, renowned graffiti artist Banksy. The film certainly wants us to believe that eccentric French shop owner and amateur filmmaker, Thierry Guetta, is a real person, and it goes to extreme lengths to set up a back story in which Guetta is making a documentary about the street art movement, only to have the camera turned on him when Banksy realizes that he’s far more interesting.
So is it real or not? It’s hard to say, which is part of the brilliance of the movie. It feels genuine for the most part (although the final 20 minutes certainly have you questioning its validity), but the fact that Banksy is known for his art pranks is what led many to conclude that there was something fishy about Thierry’s story. He sure had me fooled, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s enjoyable either way. Whereas the truth about “I’m Still Here” may have ruined the illusion, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is only more captivating because of it. That is, if it’s even an illusion at all.