— Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs from In the Heat of the Night, 1967
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August 22, 2013
Let’s Talk: Spark The Definitive Burning Man Documentary
— Posted by Kenny Miles
Filmmakers Steve Brown and Jessie Teeter encapsulated the essence of the Burning Man festival in the new documentary Spark: A Burning Man Story. Cinematographer John Behrens captures stunning amazing photography of the anarchic and chaotic moments of the globally recognized event. People are tempted to watch documentaries at home, but this is something that is easily enhanced on the big screen. Spark: A Burning Man Story highlights the high wire, neo-hippie energy of the event in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. 55,000 people gathered to the event that is run on what is described as a “gifting economy.” Money doesn’t seem to matter during the event. All are equal. One festival staff member declares that Burning Man is all about “the why not.” The behind the scenes logistics of setting up a massive event seems daunting and Spark highlights the various challenges: 50 year round staff, 4,000 volunteers, and set up for the event begins a month before the event. What the viewer gets a glimpse of is all the turmoil and various complications to assembling the event together.
One of the values of the famous Burning Man festival is “Participation.” There aren’t spectators, per say. A woman interviewed found her inner welder while building a sculpture at Burning Man. A service member turned artist was influenced by serving in the military and now inspired to express how he feels about the nation. His hatred of greedy capitialism in his art piece Burn Wall Street. He describes Burning Man as a “great venue to build giant stuff and blow it up.” This elaborate well-planned set up of the Bank of UnAmerica structure being burned to the ground as the crowd celebrates was one of the best moments in Spark: A Burning Man Story. Burning Man has a following among people who descent to the annual event. Due to the popularity a lottery ticket system was in place that angered rabid, loyal fans. This became a news worthy story that made the front page of the New York Times (but why are tickets needed to such a free spirit event, anyway?) This doesn’t seem like the same event from a few years ago. One cool concept I wasn’t expecting was the revelation of the ‘Plug & Play’ Camp is the full experience RV charge. Camps are able to transmit event to the world. Yet this manages have Ted Talks sponsors one of the stages. “Last thing we want is venture capitalist CEO’s to fund this event,” one attendee gripes.
Eccentric individuals are profiled who seem more ordinary than you’d expect. They belong to Burning Man in seeking to belong to a community. It was fascinating to watch an artist build her vision for the event with a large heart for attendees to interact. During a “Heart-fullness Fundraiser” where she is raising money she says, “what I love about BM culture is that we all come together and make it happen” During the set up, a kinky construction worker wears a bikini with knee high boots. This is the state with the bunny ranch, after all. It was ironic to contrast a moment where two staff members are in the middle of the desert before set up of Burning Man. The was the actually calm before the storm. Terrible weather plague the set up including a record 110-degree heat topped off with strong gusty windstorms. There was a limited amount of work to be done in this environment as the opening day fast approaches. Hindered work and building code. No second floors allowed.
My favorite part about Spark: A Burning Man Story was when the third act engulfs into the madness of the event speaks for itself where a chill, mellow vibe mixes with loopy characters eager to explore their surroundings and themselves. The impressive construction speaks to the talented artists that bring Burning Man alive. It isn’t so much the staff as it is the vibrant and creative artists indulge in the atmosphere. The viewer witnesses various colors, music, and crowds. Watching Spark is almost a ticket to Burning Man because you witness first hand everything about the event from its origins and implementations to first hand accounts and environment. If you have ever attended Burning Man or are interested in learning more about it, I highly recommend watching Spark: A Burning Man Story.
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Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.
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