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'Saving Banksy' Documentary Will Screen In Hollywood

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Saving Banksy, a documentary that questions the ownership and ethics of graffiti and street art, will screen for three nights in Los Angeles next week. The film, directed by Colin Day, follows an art collector who tries to save a Banksy piece from disappearing forever.

The conversation in the film revolves around the mercurial nature of the anonymous artist's work, which is technically graffiti and therefore illegal. As one interview subject points out, young artists in L.A. are getting in legal trouble for doing precisely the same thing as Banksy. Yet, when Banksy vandalizes a piece of property, it's considered high art, and is often carefully removed before being displayed in a gallery or sold for thousands of dollars. The question is: should Banksy's art remain on the streets—his intended canvas—even if it will ultimately be destroyed, or, as Indiana Jones would claim, does it belong in a museum? And if the work should be preserved in some way, is it okay to profit off the piece by selling it for large sums of money? And to whom then does that money then belong?

Brian Greif, who serves as an executive producer of Saving Banksy, is an art consultant who decided to save a Banksy piece known as "Haight Street Rat." The piece popped up in San Francisco, and city officials were planning to do what they would with any piece of graffiti: paint over it. Greif worked to remove and save the piece so that it could be viewed by the public, but he did not seek to profit off of it. This was a condition of Sami Sunchild, who owned the Red Victorian bed-and-breakfast on which the rat had been painted. You may have had the chance to see the Haight Street Rat for yourself, as it was briefly on display in the lobby of the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles. In Saving Bansky, these questions of ownership are framed around Greif's quest.

Day discussed the complicated issue in an interview with High Snobeity:

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I personally feel that graffiti and street art, once it’s been painted, belongs to the people within the community in which it was created. That said, I think Banksy (and all street artists) own the copyright of their images. The issue for Banksy in particular is that almost everything he paints is done illegally, so in the eyes of the law, the owner of the building that it was painted on, is the owner of the artwork. This is why you see so many “unauthenticated” Banksy’s ending up at auction. The frustrating thing for Banksy, is the fact that he doesn’t have any recourse for people removing public pieces for the purpose of profit. When these street pieces wind up at auction for large sums of money, Banksy is the one who is legally still in the wrong since he painted the works without consent from the building owners in the first place.

Banksy did sell his own art once, at a stand in Central Park where each stencil was priced at $60 a piece, despite experts later estimating that the pieces were more likely worth $95,000 each. Of course, this was followed by several copycat artists selling similar work for $60 each.

The Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood will screen Saving Banksy next weekend. Show times include Saturday, January 21 and Sunday, January 22 at 8 p.m. The January 20th screening has sold out. Of course, you could always stay for The Axe Murders of Villisca, which plays after Saving Banksy. It's a horror film set in the small town of Villisca, Iowa, where eight people were murdered by an unknown killer in 1912. In real life, you can actually visit the house and even book a stay, as the current owners have turned it into a bed-and-breakfast for macabre thrillseekers. This bed-and-breakfast, unlike the one Red Victorian, has never boasted a Banksy.

Arena Cinelounge is located at 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave. in Hollywood. Tickets are $13, and more information is available here.