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Saturday, December 7, 2013

SPARK: Burning Man's Intentions Shine Through

by Kari Tervo

"I drew a line on the ground. And I said, 'On the other side of this line, everything will be different.'" So stated co-founder Larry Harvey in Spark, a documentary about Burning Man. He was speaking of the genesis of Burning Man, the long-running counter-culture festival of arts, music, and positive intent.

Burning Man is certainly a different world. It's a temporary near-utopia in the Nevada desert, a true phoenix that is born and dies in the span of a week every summer. But Spark, the Steve Brown-led documentary, shows us that not everything is different there out on that dusty playa playground. While conscious living and love are overarching principles of the event, its participants and organizers display human foibles that sometimes interfere with achieving those goals. With so much tension, can the spark of intention shine through?


Burning Man 2012, the iteration that this documentary covers, saw its share of difficulties after instituting a ticket lottery to cope with increased demand for tickets. With many long-standing art groups and theme camps splintered by the lottery, even the most loyally-loving Burners were angry. "It was an intimate betrayal," acknowledges Harvey.

Interpersonal tension crackled as the organizers tried to accommodate everyone's needs. At the same time, some of the artists who create impressive and beautiful pieces for the event were feeling a different kind of tension. It was a tension of deadlines, something you're supposed to forget about at Burning Man. Otto Von Danger, in managing 25 people for the massive Burn Wall Street installation, felt exhausted and discouraged. As did Katy Boynton, the creator of a giant metal heart that featured hammocks to hang out on inside. A fellow participant, sensing her mounting frustration, orders her, "Katy, cry!" And she does. And when she feels better, we start to feel better, too: This thing is coming together!

And come together it does, the art, the music, the kinetic monolith of Black Rock City itself! Yes there were the conflicts, yes there were the difficulties and frustrations, but here it is! It's happening!

After cluing us into the hard work and dedication that are the foundation of this yearly utopia, Spark treats us to the party itself. It's not just any party: For many, Burning Man is a transformative experience of love and personal expression. In flickerings of dancing and smiles and lights, the profound joy of the experience fairly bursts off the screen. There's not enough of that joy shared in minutes. After all that hard work, the movie doesn't let us play as much as we might like.

But when the Man burns, so brilliantly and triumphant? It's indescribable. Spark will transform you: Next time someone brings up Burning Man, you'll say, "I haven't been. . .yet." Spark burns through the tension to bring us the core of Burning Man's intention: love and light.

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