5 Graffiti and Street Art Documentaries to Watch Online
If I had a dollar for every time I heard “so do you like Banksy?” when I told people I write about street art and graffiti, I would have enough money to no longer have to write about street art and graffiti. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Banksy. He’s just not the only artist out there. This list of documentaries contains a collection of artists that have created, or are redefining the street art and graffiti scene. Whether you are looking for a refresher or trying to impress your next date with your knowledge of contemporary art, we got you.
There are many more films that have been left off this list, but think of this as a crash course to get you started.
The selected documentaries vary in time period and location and show that the art goes deeper than what hits the eye. These films do their best to explain that it is more than reckless vandalism for these artists, but a lifestyle and a possible catalyst for change. With that, I give you a handful of the best documentaries online about the scene. There are many more films that have been left off this list, but think of this as a crash course to get you started.
Art of Conflict (2012)
In a surprising twist, Vince Vaughn - a man better known for his bro-tastic comedies - set his eyes on the hyper-political artwork of Northern Ireland. In a region wrought with turmoil and violence, Belfast and Derry artists have reflected their anguish with powerful murals. Directed by his sister Valeri Vaughn, Vince interviews local muralists, political figures, noted mural historians, art community members, and residents about the ongoing conflict. While the murals may be contemporary, it’s astonishing to see the issues the art reflects run centuries deep.
Style Wars (1983)
Frequently referred to as a hip-hop documentary, it’s Style Wars’ heavy emphasis on graffiti that has earned itself a spot on the list. Initially aired on PBS, this iconic film gave many people their very first taste of graffiti art. Placed in '80s NYC, the film follows several artists as they struggle to express themselves by transforming the urban landscape using a medium never before seen. Key moments include footage of the founding fathers of graffiti like Futura, Seen, and DONDI before they became the names that they are today. While the narrator’s voice is a little monotonous (it is PBS after all), the shots of the adorned subway cars and artists bombing the city provide enough excitement. This is the integral documentary you have to see if you want to learn about how graffiti started.
Beautiful Losers (2008)
Anemoia, or a nostalgia for a time you’ve never known, resonates heavy in Beautiful Losers. The film takes the viewer back to '90s NYC and follows a loose-knit group of like-minded creatives inspired by DIY and the subcultures of skateboarding, surf, punk, hip-hop, and graffiti. The group rejected the influence of the “establishment” in the art world and in the end, created a unique cultural movement. Prolific characters like Shepard Fairey, Mark Gonzales, Ed and Deanna Templeton, Harmony Korine, Barry McGee and Aaron Rose are interviewed, where they talk about the feelings of “making it big” when you were once considered an outsider.
The Deepest Depths of the Burrow (2015)
If Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations entire series was condensed to less than two hours and focused on street art, The Deepest Depths of the Burrow would be it, and Austrian artist Nychos would be your guide. Following the Rabbit Eye Movement’s motto of “travel to paint, paint to travel,” this film documents two years in the life of Nychos as he country-hops, spreading his art and meeting with fellow artists. Aside from the traveling that will give you insta-wanderlust, the film focuses on the unique lifestyle, subculture, and passion of the artists. It also touches on the contrast of urban art and graffiti.
Piece by Piece (2005)
The film documents San Francisco's graffiti culture from the early 1980s to 2004 as narrated by San Francisco graffiti artist Senor One, aka Renos. The thoughtful documentary is broken up into chapters and gives a thorough history of the controversial art and the artists involved. Featuring interviews with well known artists, this film is candid and presents an authentic history of the Bay Area as both a fundamental site for the development of graffiti and a place for change.
Words: Keisha Reines