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JR Accused of Artistic Theft for his Short Film Ellis

  • JR and Robert De Niro - Ellis Film
November 17, 2015
Anika Dačić graduated in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade and is currently pursuing MA in Literary and Cultural Studies. Her interests lie in social and cultural aspects of contemporary art production and she especially enjoys writing about street and urban art. Likes to knit, play adventure video games and host quiz nights at a local bar.

This year the illustrious photographer and activist JR and none other than Robert De Niro collaborated on a short film project which premiered a month ago in New York. A month later, the 14-minute long film Ellis is at the center of attention because of the recent accusations of plagiarism. The Italian screenwriter Stefania Rossella Grassi is accusing JR and De Niro of artistic theft, stating that the Ellis film was nothing else but a rip off of her own work L’uomo in Frac (The Man in Tails). So far, Robert De Niro’s and JR’s attorneys are denying the accusations, but the Italian screenwriter is determined to take actions stating that there is an extensive documentation that can confirm the theft.

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Robert De Niro in Ellis

Unframed – Ellis Island in 2014

The short film Ellis revisits the story of Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital which opened in 1902 and was the first place migrants visited at their arrival in the United States. For more than half a century this place was abandoned, serving only as a forgotten history relic for a few curious tourists. The French photographer JR became fascinated with this place after seeing the photographs in a book by photographer Stephen Wilkes, and since then the Ellis Island hospital served as an inspiration for his projects including Unframed – Ellis Island. For this project, JR recreated portraits from archival photographs, pasting them on the walls of the hospital as his way of drawing attention to the historic stories of migration and reflecting on the migrant experiences today.

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JR – Unframed. Ellis Island, New York, USA, 2015

Filming Ellis with De Niro in New York

As a big supporter of JR’s work Robert De Niro agreed to take part in the short film titled Ellis. Directed by JR from Eric Roth’s script, this 14-minute film features Robert De Niro wondering the halls of the abandoned Ellis Island Hospital now transformed into an art installation, the result of JR’s Unframed – Ellis Island project. The film premiered at the New Yorker festival and was recently on view at a pop-up show hosted by Galerie Perrotin. However, the story of Ellis doesn’t end here. Few days ago, the French artist and the Hollywood actor were accused of plagiarism. Stefania Rossella Grassi claims that the whole idea for the film was a theft of her work. The Italian director states that she sent a script for L’uomo in Frac film to De Niro in 2014 because she wanted him to play the main role. The actor refused, but Stefania Rossella Grassi believes that the script was passed to Eric Roth and used as an inspiration for Ellis.

Video comparison between Ellis and The Man in Tails

JR and De Niro ‘Borrowing’ the Script?

So is the script stolen? De Niro’s representatives state that the actor’s office doesn’t accept scripts. Even if they are handed to the actor directly, they are immediately transferred to his agent. Grassi, however, isn’t giving up and she recently placed a YouTube video comparing the Ellis scenes with her film The Man in Tails, trying to prove the similarities between the dialogues. The Italian director also states that there is an extensive correspondence between herself, De Niro’s agent and his lawyer, indicating that the actor did receive the script through his friend and fellow actor Danilo Mattei.

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Featured image: JR and Robert De Niro – Ellis Film. Photo via