Review on the Brilliant Documentary Spark: The Burning Man Story
[dropcap]B[/dropcap]urning Man is not just a party in the desert. This documentary sheds light on the cultural phenomenon that is Burning Man. Every year 60 000 people from all corners of the globe gather in the Black Rock desert in Nevada to have a transformative experience. We see the extreme amount of hard work that goes into building this temporary city and the extensive collaboration to produce out-of-this-world art. Rooted in the key principals of radical self-expression and a gifting economy, Burning Man has gained a massive following due to the way it challenges conventions and opens us up to a world of possibilities of what we could create if we weren’t so busy with our nine-to-five existence.
It’s hard to belong in this society and Burning Man offers a powerful and cosmic sense of place; it is an escape for those who seek authenticity and a means to express themselves in a society with no boundaries. Spark takes us on a behind-the-scenes journey right back to when it all started. We are told the stories of each of the founders who started off as just a group of friends with no intentions of ever ‘sparking’ a worldwide phenomenon. There is a revealing of the unparalleled challenges faced by the team right from safety precautions to registration ticket issues as the festival continues to expand drastically. Spark opens the curtain to the extensive behind-the-scenes efforts that are required in order to annually put on this massively multi-faceted spectacle. There are 50 staff and approximately 4000 volunteers that work all year round – a testament to the extent of this production.
The event is founded on 10 fundamental principals: immediacy, profound self-expression, communal effort, participation, civic responsibility, self-reliance, de-commodification, gifting, inclusion and leaving no trace. An extreme amount of work goes into ensuring that these principals exist on all levels. The founders – Harley Dubois, Marian Goodell, Larry Harvey, John Law, Michael Mikel, Will Roger and Crimson Rose all share a very strong bond. In 1988, they burnt a wooden figure on the beach in San Francisco as part of a celebration and it was there that the Burning Man idea was initiated. We witness how the various elements of these individuals’ lives contributed to the overall concept of the festival. Michael Mikel was involved in the cacophony society, which is where the creative dress up element came into play. As the story unfolds we come to terms with how important Burning Man is to the founders. They have evolved their entire lives around it. Marion says “I absolutely sacrificed having children and having a family for this” and Larry says, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Not only does the documentary focus on the founding contributors but also the participants involved. Those who contribute to the large theme camps and the intricate art pieces; their lives, their perspectives and what Burning Man means to them.Katy Boynton leading the “Heartfullness” welding art project says, “Burning Man definitely changed my life.” We see the hardships she endures during the process of creating this piece.Otto Van Danger, head of the “Burn Wall Street” – a wooden replication of Wall Street centered around a wooden bull figure with light-up eyes to signify the evil that is Wall Street – faces challenges when motivating his team to complete the project in difficult conditions. Jon La Grace founder and project manager of the “Playaskool” theme camp (a camp for learning) lost his banking job, got divorced and came out of the closet; Burning Man for him was the only consistent thing in his life.
Today over 50 regional Burning Man events take place around the world, all based on the same ten principles. There is no doubt that Burning Man has become a global phenomenon that continues to grow and flourish.
Read our interview with Burning Man founder Harley DuBois: http://thelegacyproject.co.za/harley-dubois-co-founder-of-burning-man/