Since it's now streaming on Netflix, and elsewhere, (and as burners can currently be seen in Reno where I currently live unicycling down the street preparing for the actual 2014 Burning Man), I thought it would be a good time to catch up on the 2013 documentary, Spark, A Burning Man Story.
I've never been to a Burning Man, and that's who the documentary seems to be aimed at, the curious who want to live vicariously through the film. But regular attendees (aka participants) are not represented as characters in this film, or just barely with some nicely edited montage scenes, while the focus goes to the founder Larry Harvey, and many other "co-founders", and artists who get ticket-subsidized grants to show work on the harsh "Playa", made less and less harsh at several boutique camps for the rich, the elites, and the Silicon Valleyers of the world. These camps which get some mention are now complete with "Sherpas" serving food, models flown in from around the world and famous DJs playing impromptu sets, making the whole experience less dusty and rootsy, and simply paid for. The burn of the Man symbolizes this, by becoming more and more costly, which organizers say has led to a necessary hike in ticket prices. The climactic burn now seems very staged and controlled, with just a few flickers of sparkly ashes falling into people's partied out faces.
The film does a good job at giving a history of Burning Man, how San Francisco hippies moved a bigger and bigger spiritual art party to a desert in Nevada, which reached near-anarchy proportions, before being reorganized to what it is today, basically a big art show, with money exchanges happening before and trash supposedly picked up by attendees/participants, or at least some of them, and lots of paid people as well as unpaid volunteers, just enjoying being part of something big and still unique, with smaller offshoots springing up around the world. The film has hints of criticisms, but as it is with reporters who get media badges on the Playa, their work is monitored and guided.
The best parts of the film concern one of the co-founders John Law, who had a well-documented dispute, and court cases, after disagreeing with the direction of Burning Man. He does get interviewed, and makes an interesting comparison between fireworks at Disney World, where he once brought his son, and the far from anarchy, well organized, rave with royalty in the desert Burning Man seems to have become.