Friday, August 23, 2013

Creativity grows in the desert

If you've never attended Burning Man, a week-long gathering that takes place every August in the parched Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada, Spark: A Burning Man Story will give you more than a passing idea about what makes the event so popular among its many devotees. As many as 60,000 people attend Burning Man, which not only tolerates but encourages what looks like rampant indulgence of both creative expression and unconventional thinking.

Directors Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter have made a documentary that has two major thrusts: One deals with growing pains experienced by an event that began with an impromptu, anarchic spirit, but which (of necessity) has had to adopt a degree of organizational efficiency that some view as a betrayal of the event's founding spirit.

In 1996, safety issues arose. The Burning Man organizers, who sometimes work under highly stressful conditions, had to make difficult decisions about how to manage a small, if temporary, city in the middle of nowhere.

Popularity also has posed problems, so much so that tickets to the 2012 Burning Man had to be distributed by lottery, a process that left many long-time supporters without access.

The rest of the film takes us to the 2012 edition of Burning Man, and, yes, there's something appealingly mad about the idea of assembling massive sculptures that are on display for a week before they're dismantled and carted away or even destroyed. An example: In 2012 A former Marine named Otto Von Danger built a wooden replica of Wall Street and then set it ablaze, much to the delight of a cheering throng.

Judging by the documentary -- which eventually succumbs to the tedium of over-exposure -- Burning Man's 2012 edition offered a mixture of exuberant creativity, lingering infantilism, left-over Hippie exhibitionism and playful countercultural vibes.

Whatever the value of Burning Man, the documentary makes it appear as if attendees work their butts off but have fun.

Is it my idea of a good time? Not really. But now, if anyone asks me (which I doubt they will) whether I have any interest in attending Burning Man, I'll have a ready reply: No need, I'll say. I saw the movie.

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