By Robert Mills
Max Good and Nathan Wollman’s new documentary, Vigilante Vigilante, focuses on a little known aspect of the street-art scene. Rather than exploring the work of street artists like Banksy or Richard Hambleton, and the many artists who have followed in their wake, the new film shines a light instead on taggers’ most outspoken adversaries.
“It’s not a graffiti movie in the traditional sense,” Wollman said. “It’s not stereotypical. It’s more about human behavior.”
The documentary chronicles the lives of “buffers” – impassioned vigilantes who combat graffiti with more graffiti.
Good and Wollman fell into the turf war when they noticed recurring silver blotches on Berkeley buildings and street signs. The dripping silver paint markings were not city-regulated, yet they appeared with some regularity.
Curiosity turned into obsession once the two men began pointing hidden cameras at fresh Berkeley tags, waiting to capture the elusive “Silver Buff” on camera.
The documentary chronicles Good and Wollman’s entire adventure, from bumbling stakeouts at 4 a.m. on the streets of Berkeley, to discovering the true identity of the Silver Buff – a resident of the Berkeley Hills named Jim Sharp.
“The backstory there is really amazing,” Wollman said. “Instead of removing the graffiti, or scrubbing it off, Jim Sharp started spraying silver as a way of saying, ‘Hey, this is me not being satisfied with what’s going on here in regards to stickers, street art or postering or anything like that.’ It wasn’t just taggers he was after.”
For Wollman, the most intriguing aspect of Sharp is not his opposition to taggers in general, but the way he chooses to express his opposition.
“He’s not out there cleaning stuff up at all,” Wollman said. “He’s going balls out on the silver paint and the other vigilantes are on the same page.
“Right now some anti-graffiti activists don’t want our movie to be shown. They want us to be taken down for putting up flyers for the film.”
Director Max Good recently worked as assistant producer and distribution manager on the Academy Award®-‐nominated documentary feature, “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” (2009). He’s also directed several short films in collaboration with Co-Producer Nathan Wollman, a Bay Area Native who is an active member of The San Francisco Film Society and a graduate of San Francisco State University.
Though they take no official stance in the film, the filmmakers are not innocent spectators in the turf war – many Vigilante Vigilante stencils, stickers and fliers can be found plastered on walls and boxes throughout the Bay Area.
The documentarians appear unbiased in the documentary, however, examining both sides of the battle over public property.
“I really don’t have judgment towards people who follow their passion,” Wollman said. “Sometimes your passion can get you in trouble, but that’s why it’s a passion. I’m inspired by both sides. It’s the dedication and persistence that inspires me, not necessarily the act.”
Vigilante Vigilante will debut August 12 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco. Wollman said the documentary will play nationwide in select theaters following the debut. Find out more about the film on the documentary’s website.