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SXSW: 'Spark: A Burning Man Story' review

By Will Tallent
On March 12, 2013


If you have ever heard of Burning Man, you might already know it isn't your average festival. One could hardly call it a festival. Some may view Burning Man as a bunch of hippies went in the desert together every year, did a massive amount of drugs and finally celebrated at the end by burning a wooden figure shaped like a man. Co-producers Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter of "Spark: A Burning Man Story" do a fantastic job of pulling you into the rabbit hole that is Burning Man, allowing you to enter the twisted carnival-esk world at the heart of Black Rock City, Nev.
Right off the bat, this documentary seized my imagination and splattered it onto the screen. Unreal scenery combined with crazy costumes and mutated vehicles create a dreamlike world only seen in sleep. It's enthralling. Thereafter, the audience is introduced to the people that began Burning Man. A free-loving collection of men and women who have adopted Burning Man as their own. The intensity of the drama in the film is surprising; Throughout the film, the organizers of Burning Man struggle with managing an event that embraces complete freedom from regulation. Of course, without these organizers, Burning Man might have blown itself up several years ago. According to the founders, 1996 was proof that drugs and fire do not mix well. A hellish night of uncontrolled chaos was a wake up call that the gathering could only become so big before some organization had to be implemented. Despite the fact that the festivities are certainly less feral than past gatherings, it remains an untamed event full of spontaneity and bizarre enlightenment.
Although the documentary primarily follows the history of Burning Man and its covert organizers, it also goes deep into psychology of its community. A community, you ask? That is what they call themselves and they might have the right to do so. After all, 60,000 people drive to the middle of the desert every year to share this experience. Whatever kind of experience Burning Man creates is one people come back for. It seems that the Burning Man community is made up of a fascinating part of our society. Ravers, hippies, free-thinkers, rockers and hipsters seem to conjoin and embrace their quirkiness during this week of radical freedom.
However, occasionally, there is discontinuity "Spark: A Burning Man Story." At times, the audience feels lost in the frequent transitions from the organizers of Burning Man, to artsy cinematography, the events history and then to the community itself.  However, this inconvenience is merely a speed bump compared to what you take away. Going into this film, viewers may expect it to be about the event and nothing else. Instead, it seemed to explore our society as a whole and how Burning Man is an alternative philosophy.  The audience walked away with not only the understanding of an obscure festival in the Nevada, but also an understanding of an entire sub-culture's perspective on life. "Spark: A Burning Man Story" was a solid documentary that should be under the philosophical genre.  If you have the opportunity to see this, it definitely is not a waste of your time.

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