Spark: A Burning Man Story Shines a Light on Burners But Misses the Shadows


We open with a static shot of a shimmering desert, reminiscent of the intro to High Plains Drifter. Instead of Clint Eastwood’s vengeful ghost, something resembling a Subaru Outback emerges. It’s as fitting a contrast between that film and Spark: A Burning Man Story as you’re likely to get. The setting is Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, site of what one event founder describes as an exercise in “radical collective codependency.” Charting Burning Man’s course from its origins on a San Francisco beach in 1986 to the massive affair currently boasting nearly 60,000 attendees, producer-directors Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter utilize broad access to the event’s six founders to offer impressive insight into 27 years of BM history. They also follow the progress of two artists attending in 2012: Katy Boynton, channeling past struggles into her Heartfullness project, and “Otto Von Danger,” an ex-Marine whose anger issues and aggressive timetable threaten to derail his plans to Burn Wall Street. Certainly, they don’t lack impressive dedication, especially considering their works are often going up in flames. And though Brown and Deeter highlight some past unpleasantness (the unruliness of 1996, the 2012 ticket lottery fiasco in which several thousand longtime participants were unable to attend), one gets the impression the utopian shots of blissful burners and happy children aren’t telling the whole story. Or maybe my Facebook friends were lying about all the sex and drugs. As an official history, Spark shines adequate light; I just wish it had spent a little more time on the shadows.

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