EXCLUSIVE: Doc explores the theft of Banksy’s controversial mural in the West Bank.

The Man Who Stole Banksy

Elle Driver has boarded world sales on Italian filmmaker Marco Proserpio’s The Man Who Stole Banksy, exploring the debate around the commercial sale of removed street art through the fate of a mural created by the elusive artist in the West Bank in 2007. 

Known as Donkey Documents (pictured above) and depicting an Israeli soldier checking a donkey’s ID at a checkpoint, the mural at the heart of the documentary is among a series of protest works painted by Bansky on Israel’s controversial separation wall since 2005.

It unexpectedly provoked the ire of people in Bethlehem, however, when it appeared on a section of the wall there overnight. They complained it seemed to compare Palestinians to donkeys. 

In the middle of the furore a local taxi driver had the section cut out of the wall and put the entire slab of concrete up for sale on eBay.

Proserpio follows the mural’s trajectory from the West Bank to an eventual sale at an auction house in Beverly Hills.

It is a journey that takes the film-maker into the heart of the street art market, exploring what it means when a piece of politically subversive art created for wide public viewing ends up on a private collector’s wall.

Chance meeting

The idea for the film came out of a chance meeting with the taxi-driver who masterminded the sale of the mural when Proserpio was visiting Bethlehem. 

“He was my very first encounter once I passed the Bethlehem checkpoint,” explains Proserpio. “This accidental meeting introduced me to a theme that soon after I would literally chase, with varying and fascinating implications, around the world.”

Interviewees include the taxi-driver; Stephen Keszler, who runs a gallery in the Hamptons specialising in street art, and art restorers and collectors in London, Copenhagen, Vienna and Italy specialised in removing artworks from the streets.

Some acknowledge they are committing a crime, others justify their actions saying that they are saving a work of art that would be otherwise lost. The documentary also sheds a light on the subversive act of Italian street artist Blu, who erased work in his home city of Bologna rather than see it removed and sold commercially.

“As I began my research, I realised how that same issue can be interpreted in very different ways, and how its ethical justifications and explanations can vary drastically from country to country, depending on cultural and economic priorities,” said Proserpio.

It is a debut feature documentary for Proserpio who has worked in film, television and advertising for a decade, sometimes works under the banner of Sterven Jønger, the pseudonym for the Milan-based filmmaking collective he founded in 2010 with photographer Jacopo Farina.

The production team includes Glasgow-based Italian producer Filippo Perfido, who takes a producer credit, alongside executive producers Marcello Paolillo and Lucia Nicolai.

Paris-based Elle Driver will kick off sales in Cannes, where it will show first images. The company handles worldwide sales except for Italy, which is managed directly by the producers.

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