Experimental filmmaker Joseph Gibbons was the focus of multiple camera lenses this afternoon — not as part of one his projects, but because he had been convicted of robbery in the third degree. Today in Manhattan Supreme Court, he was sentenced to a year in prison, with the many months he’s been confined to jail counting towards time served.
Last December Gibbons was arrested following his robbery of a bank in Chinatown in which he gave the teller a note demanding money. What makes the case a shade more interesting than your standard stick-up is that, according to the New York Post, the theft of the $1,002 was filmed as part of a future project.
Gibbons appeared in court following more traditional, less avant garde cases like the guy convicted of criminal possession of a controlled substance who cheekily (or stupidly) wore a green t-shirt that read “Never Smoke Weed.”
In contrast, Gibbons appeared calm and disconsertingly conservative in his grey suit and dark-rimmed glasses. The professorial filmmaker had no dogmatic closing statement, just a simple, “No, I have nothing to say.”
After Justice Laura Ward sentenced Gibbons and gave him the customary “I hope this is the last time you’re in front of the judge” line, she began discussing the logistics of Gibbons’ payment of the surcharge.
According to Ward, the plea report indicated that he “intends to go to a homeless shelter upon his release from jail.”
We asked his defense attorney, Eric Williams, about this lack of residence.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard anything about this, so I can’t comment,” he said, but added that Gibbons is happy to be done with the appearances in court. “I think every defendant wants to put this behind them. I don’t think Joseph is an exception.”
Though Williams doesn’t know how this conviction will impact Gibbons’ career, there are many people who want to see him continue making films and keep him off the street once released – such as those who donated $8,799 on his behalf during an online fundraiser called “The Friends of Joe Gibbons.”
“Getting him back on his feet so he can continue with his great contribution to the cinematic arts is our goal!” reads the fundraiser’s page. “All the funds raised will go towards his legal, health and food-clothes-and-shelter needs.”
While the police escort made it a bit difficult to approach Gibbons and ask his opinion (was his arrest worth the footage, which might appear in Queens Museum?), the robbery for art’s sake seems in keeping with Gibbons’ artistic vision.
Per a biography on MIT’s website, Gibbons uses “his own life as source material.” This strategy has won him a number of awards and led to exhibitions at several well-loved museums. But his film is not purely autobiography. Instead, “blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, self and persona, his films and tapes combine a desire to connect, to confess, with a contradictory impulse to confabulate and dissimulate.”
According to his website, his films center around the main character Joe Gibbons “who looks, speaks and even behaves like the filmmaker, however you might say that he is an intensified, more performative and fictionalized version of the artist. Existential, megalomaniacal, paranoid and ultimately doubtful of the direction that life is taking him, Joe tends to live on the margins of society.”
While the Joe Gibbons of film may be on the margins, the real one is now on full view. At the end of the “About” page (written by Andrew Lampert for Anthology Film Archives) we are left with a question: “His slippery sense of narrative and faux-diaristic leaves one wondering if Joe is simply documenting his life on camera or instead living his life for the camera.”
So, robbery for robbery’s sake? Or robbery for art? The answer becomes more interesting when you consider that Gibbons’ last project was entitled Confessions of a Sociopath.