Part Carnivale, part summer camp, part communal performance art piece, the annual Burning Man fire ceremony has grown from a small celebration to a gathering of more than 25,000 people in the temporary city of Black Rock, Nevada. Alex Nohe's documentary about the event is sympathetic without being gullible: He isn't blind to the silliness, but also captures moments of spontaneous creativity and authentic co-operative interaction. He captures both the party animals, who clearly see it as a week-long Halloween party Mardi Gras without the New Orleans police stomping everyone's buzz and the earnest neo-hippies sincerely into ecstatic communion with nature and improvised shamanistic rituals, as well as the live-and-let-live fans of hassle-free public nudity, dancing and body-painting. Burning Man was born in 1986, when friends Larry Harvey and Jerry James put together a small gathering of friends to torch a modest, eight-foot wooden effigy on San Francisco's Barker Beach. As the event grew larger, it eventually ran afoul of park police, so Harvey moved it to remote Black Rock, Nevada, a sun-baked lakebed a playa surrounded by mountains. Private rituals and voyeuristic spectacle coexist harmoniously, and the cardinal rule no spectators, only participants is adhered to with bright-eyed enthusiasm. Every year since 1990 the assembly has attracted more revelers, including artists whose elaborate and often monumental installations the desert's vastness seems to inspire big thinking frequently incorporate the crowd's communal energies. Nohe included striking footage of projects ranging from the glossy, futuristic Bubble Fountain project to a starkly beautiful tree made of bleached bones trucked in from a California ranch; all compete for attention with the burning man itself, an eerily elegant construction that goes up in flames on the last night of the festival. Nohe's interviews with Harvey and James are eye-opening, not so much because of their revelations about Burning Man as for their appearances: Considerably older than most of the participants, both look more like middle-class dentists than modern primitives. But their commitment Burning Man's counter-cultural ideals is evident: It's non-exclusive, policed by volunteer rangers who, one participant says admiringly, "really do protect and serve," and there's no on-site commerce, with the exception of a coffee house an ad-hoc barter economy is encouraged. Cynics may scoff, but the spirit of Woodstock not the 1999 debacle, but the 1969 original lives.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: Part Carnivale, part summer camp, part communal performance art piece, the annual Burning Man fire ceremony has grown from a small celebration to a gathering of more than 25,000 people in the temporary city of Black Rock, Nevada. Alex Nohe's documentary ab… (more)