The film, financed by the artist himself, seeks to re-enact the fictional backstory behind the divisive show.
The exhibition that launched a thousand angry tweets lives on—on Netflix.
Earlier this week, the streaming service released a mockumentary, “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” that chronicles the fictional story behind Damien Hirst’s two-venue exhibition in Venice last year.
The slickly produced film—full of sweeping underwater shots and a swelling soundtrack—was financed by the artist himself, a spokesperson from Hirst’s company, Science Ltd, tells artnet News. “The film is something Damien wanted people to be able to come across in years to come, which explores the backstory of the project,” she says.
According to the 90-minute mockumentary, the vast Venice spectacle was not the 52-year-old artist’s highly anticipated comeback exhibition, which took 10 years and cost a reported $65 million to produce.
Instead, the film suggests the show was the debut presentation of long-lost treasure discovered by a team of archaeologists and divers off the coast of east Africa. The trove—so the story goes—had been assembled during the 1st or 2nd centuries by a former slave turned voracious collector, Cif Amotan II (an anagram, it turns out, for “I am fiction”).
The film follows a team of researchers as they identify Amotan’s shipwreck beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean. But in order to retrieve the sunken booty, they need a benefactor. Enter: Damien Hirst.
Although the dialogue is delivered with deadpan seriousness, the mockumentary is full of self-deprecating winks at the audience. “I didn’t know much about him,” Andrew Lerner, a (fictional) professor of Maritime Studies at the University of Aberdeen, says into the camera, referring to Hirst. “To me he was… the shark guy.”
Hirst himself also references his penchant for pickling marine life, noting that “I wasn’t tempted to get a wet suit on because I think the sharks would eat me.”
The film was directed by Sam Hobkinson, whose previous work includes the 2014 TV movie “The Hunt for the Boston Bombers.” It is produced by Hirst and Oxford Films, the company behind the recent royal documentary “Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy,” and distributed by Park Circus.
According to Science, the film features a mix of experts and actors—but most of the speaking parts (other than Hirst) appear to be fictional characters. After the mockumentary was complete, the artist decided “Netflix was the right platform” to share it with the world, the spokesperson says.
If the comments section on Netflix is any indication, the film appears to be just as divisive as the exhibition itself. “Don’t be fooled—it is not a documentary,” one commentator wrote. “I want my 90 minutes back,” wrote another.