Burning Man

New Documentary Captures Burning Man in Time of Crisis

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Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge JOSH "CURIOUSJOSH" REISS
  • Josh "CuriousJosh" Reiss
Burning Man is happening at this very moment out in the Black Rock desert of northern Nevada. (You can catch our coverage starting Tuesday.) Also noteworthy is the just-released documentary Spark, which chronicles Burning Man 2012 and the year leading up to it .

It's told through the eyes of the event's founders and a variety of artists who created projects for the playa, and captures the creative spirit that drives Burning Man -- as well as a time of crisis for the event. It's also visually spectacular. (The trailer is below.) We spoke with the film's co-director and producer Steve Brown.

See also: Burning Man Expects Nearly 70,000, Gets New Federal Permit

Was the intention of Spark to demystify the reputation of Burning Man as some desert rave drug frenzy?

We didn't have any agenda...When we started the film, Burning Man was the point of inspiration for the characters we featured, who were going there to act on one of their dreams or do a big project or go on some quest. We were exploring the storyline of what happens after someone musters the courage to act on their dream, which is usually a lot of work and struggles and challenges.

What we discovered when we were making the film is that the story of the Burning Man founders is very similar. The whole thing started with this idealistic vision of creating a new society, and that's gone through various transformations as they've hit challenges. Burning Man chucks traditional values out the window and says 'We don't care about money and power and status. We care about self expression, creative collaboration and art.' When people leave the old world behind and spend time in this other value system, it has a big impact. That story had never been told.

How did you get such comprehensive access to the Burning Man founders, especially while they were dealing with last year's fallout from the controversial lottery ticketing system?

It started with us asking if we could come in and film for a project we were working on about the artists' journey at Burning Man. They let us film around the office and staff retreats, and then started letting us film their board meeting. When we first started, those meetings were all about converting Burning Man into a non-profit, expanding around the world and changing the world.

See also: Why I'll Never Go To Burning Man

Then what happened as we were filming is that they fell into this crisis. It seemed like everyone in the world wanted to go to Burning Man, and Burning Man couldn't handle it. They didn't have room, and that caused this really deep existential crisis about what Burning Man really means and what values are the most important and what to do when this little utopia of abundance that has been created hit scarcity for the first time.

It was a moment when their life work was being called into question. They let us keep going through the whole thing, through the frustration internally and externally in the community. We didn't know if they were going to be able to resolve the issue. We thought we might have filmed the last Burning Man ever.

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