SXSW Movie Review: Spark: A Burning Man Story

burningthemanOnly three minutes into the film, and I knew I would have to go to Burning Man sometime in my life. After watching the film, I realized that may not be as easy as imagined.

The documentary  Spark is about how the elusive festival in the desert, Burning Man, came to be and is today. In this moment, what do you really know about Burning Man? Before watching the doc, I knew very little. I knew it took place out in the desert, it was something like five days of hippies dancing in the sun, taking as many drugs as possible and commemorating the entire experience by burning a huge statue of a wooden man on the last night. Come to find out, my predictions were not too far off. Although the festival is a week-long and there is much more involved than hippies getting high in the desert. It’s much deeper than that.

Burningman1Now after learning a little bit more about the fest, I began to wonder why they would even want to film a documentary on Burning Man. What I mean to say is the essence of Burning Man was a free-spirited festival in the desert where everyone brought in what they needed and left nothing behind. There were no corporate sponsors or advertised drinks sitting around. By announcing to the world that you have this secret, little, awesome festival in the desert, won’t everyone want to come? Won’t it become too big? That question, or one very similar was asked to one of the co-founders in the film and he answered with a question: What is too big?

Of course, how free-spirited could this festival have been after all? Sure, there were no bouncers telling people where to go, but without some sort of guidance out there, the scene was surely going to turn into the lizard orgy Hunter S. Thompson feared was all around him. telephone_burning_man_art_carThe entire idea of Burning Man is that they are setting things on fire, at the end of the fest. Well, I’m no scientist, but I would feel confident in stating that fire mixed with people on drugs can not end well. According to the film, the festival in 1996 turned into the wild, wild west, with every man for himself.

Since then, Burning Man has had to step up their security a bit to protect themselves and everyone else that attends the fest. It’s still far from corporate, but not quite as free as in the good ole days. But then, what is anymore? The film spent the last twenty minutes or so just filming the goings on at the fest. No narration was needed, just a little music to set the scene. We get to see huge dance parties, dusty people making out, many things being set on fire, and tons of creative costumes and vehicles riding around showing off their glowing lights and flame-throwing dragon cars. Going to Burning Man is definitely a photographers dream!

After watching the documentary, it’s still hard to say what exactly Burning Man is. Perhaps I should just let the founders explain it for you. If you doubt you will ever get to attend Burning Man, do yourself a favor and go see Spark: A Burning Man Story.

You’re here to survive. What happens to your brain and body when exposed to 107 degree heat, moisture wicking off your body and dehydrating you within minutes? You know and watch yourself. You drink water constantly and piss clear. You’ll want to reconsider drinking that alcohol (or taking those other substances) you brought with you — the mind-altering experience of Burning Man is its own drug. You slather yourself in sunblock before the sun’s rays turn up full blast. You bring enough food, water, and shelter because the elements of the new planet are harsh, and you will find no vending.

You’re here to create. Since nobody at Burning Man is a spectator, you’re here to build your own new world. You’ve built an egg for shelter, a suit made of light sticks, a car that looks like a shark’s fin. You’ve covered yourself in silver, you’re wearing a straw hat and a string of pearls, or maybe a skirt for the first time. You’re broadcasting Radio Free Burning Man — or another radio station.

You’re here to experience. Ride your bike in the expanse of nothingness with your eyes closed. Meet the theme camp — enjoy Irrational Geographic, relax at Bianca’s Smut Shack and eat a grilled cheese sandwich. Find your love and understand each other as you walk slowly under a parasol. Wander under the veils of dust at night on the playa.

You’re here to celebrate. On Saturday night, we’ll burn the Man. As the procession starts, the circle forms, and the man ignites, you experience something personal, something new to yourself, something you’ve never felt before. It’s an epiphany, it’s primal, it’s newborn. And it’s completely individual.

You’ll leave as you came. When you depart from Burning Man, you leave no trace. Everything you built, you dismantle. The waste you make and the objects you consume leave with you. Volunteers will stay for weeks to return the Black Rock Desert to its pristine condition.

I give Spark: A Burning Man Story 3 “Burning Man Transportation” out of 5

burning man car ship_burning_man_art_cars burning-man-cars-01-0512-lgn

by Angela Davis

Additional Screenings

Wednesday, March 13

1:45PM – 3:15PM

Venue: Alamo Ritz 2


Friday, March 15

11:15AM -12:45PM

Venue: Vimeo Theater


About Angela

Angela is the Editor-in-Chief of Lost in Reviews. She and Ryan created Lost in Reviews together in 2009 out of a mutual hatred for all the stodgy old farts currently writing film reviews. Since launching the site, Angela has enjoyed reviewing indie films over all other films, picking up new music from all corners of the world and photographing live shows. She is the co-host of Blu Monday and a member of the Kansas City Film Critic Circle.

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