Hot Docs: Roadsworth: Crossing the Line

We at Spacing (and Spacing Montreal) have written a fair bit about Roadsworth, the Montreal stencil artist, over the years. A documentary on this once-elusive artist, from the same film collective as H2Oil, was screened at this year’s Hot Docs.When filmmaker Alan Kohl found out his bandmate, Peter Gibson, was Roadsworth, he started work documenting the conflicting reactions to Gibson’s art. Roadsworth: Crossing the Line follows the artist from anonymity to fame (that brings both commissions and legal troubles).

Just before Hot Docs, I spoke with Kohl about the film and the reactions to Gibson’s work that he saw as he traveled the world with Roadsworth.

People tend to think of Europe as an artistically inviting society, did you find the attitudes toward Peter’s work much different than in Canada?

The only people who really responded were in the scene in the film when he’s in England. I couldn’t go totally into it in the film, but there was an event that he was part of that [featured] a bunch of other artists and had taken over that town for two weeks. They were putting art installations all over the place, in a really conservative little town outside of London. There was a road they were rebuilding, all this art was coming in and they were just like ‘God!’ they hated the whole thing. The city under construction for so long…. It was a chaotic time for that little town so on top of it all these artists were coming and installing stuff that they don’t really want. I don’t think it’s totally indicative of what the rest of Europe might think of him.

Some of the comments that are in the film are negative but… a lot of people loved it. [In Amsterdam a woman called the police on him] but there was a woman who walked by and said that’s so beautiful, right under that woman’s window. That was another area in Amsterdam where there wasn’t much graffiti; there was virtually none. In Berlin it was everywhere, everywhere was evenly tagged. They just let it go, it’s something they don’t even try to deal with it in Berlin it’s just part of the landscape. In Amsterdam, after he painted that thing on the ground and got caught by the police the next day I went by to get his bike about five hours later and [his graffiti] was gone, they had sprayed it off. They keep it really tight and clean.

A lot of people are talking about community outreach in connection to docs, do you have plans in that vein connected to that doc?

That’s also what we [Loaded Pictures] love to do with these films is not just have them as something you watch and walk away from, but that there might be an event around them, or at least a Q&A. I got quite a bit of interest in schools wanting to show it. And, actually, it didn’t make it into the film but Roadsworth was asked to come into a school once and kind of do a ‘show and tell with Roadsworth,’ it was great. They were around eight- or nine-years-old, and they were like ‘wow you got arrested!’ He ended up showing them how to make stencils in class and talked about why he did it and what kind of messages he feels he’s been exposed too, like advertising messages. That was his main thrust of his conversation, it was about ‘why did you do this?’ He said, ‘I’m bombarded by messages we all are.’ He got the kids to call out some of the signs they see everyday, like billboards and stop signs. Those are the ones we don’t chose, they’re just there and we don’t have much choice in them. He thought it would be nice to subvert those and he talked about that in a way that [the kids] could understand.