Burning Man Uncovered… | “Spark” a Burning Man Story

Sara K |

Spark is a new documentary about Burning Man that is currently screening in select theaters in the U.S. Here’s a synopsis offered by Spark Pictures Production:

Each year, 60,000 people from around the globe gather in a dusty windswept Nevada desert to build a temporary city, collaborating on large-scale art and partying for a week before burning a giant effigy in a ritual frenzy. Rooted in principles of self-expression, self-reliance and community effort, Burning Man has grown famous for stirring ordinary people to shed their nine-to-five existences and act on their dreams. SPARK takes us behind the curtain with Burning Man organizers and participants, revealing a year of unprecedented challenges and growth. When ideals of a new world based on freedom and inclusion collide with realities of the “default world,” we wonder which dreams can survive.”

Burning Man
Burning Man

As Jesse Cassidy’s recent article (http://snowbrains.com/burning-man/) clearly demonstrated, there is no simple answer to the question What Is Burning Man. Any answer to that question is going to be subjective and many faceted. Luckily, the director-producer duo Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter do not fall into the trap of answering that question for the audience. According to Brown – whom I met at a private screening of the film a few months ago – “this is merely a Burning Man story, not the Burning Man story”.


Aside from providing a brief history of the event, from its modest origins on San Francisco’s Baker beach in 1986 to the massive annual event currently set in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada’s Great Basin, the documentary follows the lives of three individuals attending BM 2012. These are Katy Boynton, a San Francisco based sculptor/welder and her Heartfullness art project,which is essentially a massive heart for burners to lounge inside; Gulf War Marine vet “Otto Von Danger” who seems to have an affinity for blowing things up and who plans to do exactly that with his art project Burn Wall Street; and last but not least, former Wall Streeter Jon La Grace who runs some sort of a plug-and-play theme camp called “Play)A(Skool”. The characters portrayed here are by no means representative of all walks of life attending the event annually. But they do a fair job of partially covering the scope: from BM die-hard and old-timer types (characterized by Otto), to the newly revived and inspired (portrayed by Katy who decides to learn welding after attending BM 2011 for the first time), and still to burner-wanna-be’s who have entirely missed the point (as represented by Jon, selling personalized “luxury” playa experiences clearly at odds with BM core principles of Radical Self-reliance and Participation).


Perhaps what gives this documentary an edge is the sort of unique access Brown and Deeter had to the event’s original founders as well as its current organizers. Taking us “behind the scenes”, the director-producers are able to offer an insight into what it takes to organize a gathering with close to 60,000 participants. Finding themselves in the midst of the BM 2012 ticket lottery fiasco in which several thousand longtime participants were unable to attend, the founders and organizers suddenly have to negotiate a balance between their idealistic values for an alternative society based on radical inclusion, and the more realistic characteristics of any human society, such as limited resources and power structures. As utopian as the original idea might have been, one can’t help but to conclude that every time a new community is formed, it eventually devolves back to the default world, with the good, the bad and the ugly all mixed up. At the same time, it is truly inspiring to see how in the face of it all, 60,000 people can choose to live together in relative peace, love and harmony.



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