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Camera-shy Banksy to appear on film at last

Sundance premier for reclusive street artist's film debut

He started out by spraying his provocative images onto walls and under bridges in the middle of the night, leaving the public to puzzle over them in the morning.

People liked his work so much that he began selling it at exhibitions, where he soon attracted celebrity buyers including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Then he published a book of his collected work, copies of which now adorn countless British coffee tables.

Now, the graffiti artist Banksy is to take the commercialisation of his street art to the next level, directing a feature-length film which will make its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday.

The documentary film, Exit Through The Gift Shop, is being billed as "the world's first street art disaster movie". It is directed by Banksy – whose true identity has long been a mystery – and narrated by the Welsh actor Rhys Ifans.

In a press release issued by the festival, which is being held in Park City, Utah, Banksy was quoted as saying: "It's the story of how one man set out to film the unfilmable. And failed."

John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, described the film as "part personal journey and part expose on the art world, with its mind-altering mix of hot air and hype".

He said: "Exit Through The Gift Shop is one of those films that comes along once in a great while, a warped hybrid of reality and self-induced fiction while at the same time a totally entertaining experience. The story is so bizarre I began to question if it could even be real... but in the end I didn't care. I feel bad I won't be able to shake the filmmaker's hand and tell him how much I love this film. I think I will shake everyone's hand that day and hope I hit on Banksy somewhere. I love his work in all forms."

The film tells the story of an eccentric French shopkeeper called Terry Guetta, who decides to make a documentary about the shady world of street art and his attempts to find and befriend Banksy – only to have the artist turn the camera back on him when he eventually succeeds.

In a characteristically cryptic statement issued through his publicist Jo Brooks, Banksy said: "It's a film about a man who tried to make a film about me. Everything in it is true, especially the bits where we all lie."

The film includes footage of many of the world's most famous graffiti artists at work, and has interviews with Shepard Fairey and Invader as well as Banksy himself. It will be the first time that the elusive artist, who has long remained anonymous to avoid being prosecuted by the police, has been heard speaking. It is due to open in British cinemas on 5 March.

The film was omitted from the official Sundance programme, and its inclusion remained a closely-guarded secret until yesterday. The announcement prompted some to speculate that Banksy will use the film to reveal his true identity, but given his past this seems unlikely.