Q&A: Chris Moukarbel on Searching for the Elusive Artist in ‘Banksy Does New York’

Millions have followed his work, yet very few know the real identity of controversial street artist Banksy. Last October, the elusive graffiti artist, painter, and filmmaker completed a month-long residency in New York using the city as his canvas, kicking up dust all over the streets and the Internet. His controversial and often political multimedia work inspired New York artists, activists, and even a few property owners. Banksy Does New York, a new documentary by Chris Moukarbel, follows Banksy’s mark on the city primarily through footage shot by his most devoted followers, who were there to catch the art before it was destroyed.


How do you describe Banksy Does New York in your own words?

Chris Moukarbel: Banksy Does New York is a portrait of that month last October (2013) when Banksy turned the entire city of NYC into his personal art studio. The film includes a large amount of crowd-sourced footage, so we think of it as the city holding a mirror back up to the artist.

What inspired you to tell this particular story? At what point did you know you wanted to jump on board and try to capture the event?

Chris Moukarbel: I’ve always been inspired by Banksy’s ability to hack the media—he is able to absorb public dialogue around his street art and use it to create more work. In this way, his projects are always generating conversation and, in turn, new work.


Can you tell us about your content crowd-sourcing, which is a uniquely modern way of filmmaking?

Chris Moukarbel: I’ve always been drawn to public art, and the Internet is just another public space. It really is the new street, so it made sense to include a conversation and content that presently exists online as a way to depict Banksy’s public works. Also, Banksy’s daily works were a moving target, so crowd-sourcing footage shot by the many people that tracked him was the most accurate and complete coverage.

How did you keep up with a constantly evolving story?

Chris Moukarbel: Much of the story was already written online, so in many ways the project was an excavation—the story was buried within layers of online media.


How did the project shift and change as you assembled the film?

Chris Moukarbel: No one had yet framed Banksy’s entire residency. Broader themes around gentrification of urban space and the commodification of public art began to emerge. It was really exciting to make connections between individual works and find meaning in the big picture of what the residency was about.

What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

Chris Moukarbel: I hope people enjoy the ride. We really wanted to recreate some of the energy of having been in NYC at the time—it felt like waking up to a city-wide scavenger hunt.


Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Chris Moukarbel: Just start making a film with whatever resources are available to you. Don’t be too precious with your medium at the beginning. Just find your story and tell it with whatever means are possible.

What are you most looking forward to at the 2014 Hamptons International Film Festival?

Chris Moukarbel: I’m excited to meet new filmmakers at the Festival.

Banksy in New York will have its World Premiere in the World Cinema section at HIFF 2014. Find tickets. 

Chris-MoukarbelWith his debut film, Me At The Zoo (Sundance 2012), Chris Moukarbel established a directorial style that involved accessing a significant amount of user-generated footage from various social media outlets. He used this style to help tell the story of Internet celebrity Chris Crocker and the launch of YouTube. Moukarbel was approached by HBO in the fall of 2013 to chronicle Banksy’s self imposed NYC residency, “Better Out Than In.” He again incorporates this technique, given that all of the 30 works were documented through Banksy’s websites, but more so through user-generated footage.