I’ve never been to the legendary Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock desert, but thanks to the documentary Journey to the Flames: 10 Years of Burning Man (Extended Edition), I very much want to go.
Footage of Burning Man is rare enough, thanks to the restrictions the event organizers place on photography, so a documentary that not only shows you ten years worth of Burning Man art and culture, but also takes you behind the scenes to see how such a massive event is organized, is something to treasure.
The documentary itself is composed of a number of vignettes, and if its loose structure can be categorized, I’d say the over-arching story is about a group of Burners (as attendee/participants are called) finding self-actualization at the festival. The movie starts with the group preparing for the fest. Each of them is a colorful character, perhaps with the exception of Doug, who happens to be the cameraman and director of the documentary. (A later running joke of the group taunts Doug for hiding behind his camera.)
Mixed in with these personal journeys are segments that give a much broader view of the festival — how an army of volunteers is organized, how a city is built in the desert, how the safety of participants is guarded, an exhaustive catalog of the crazy art installations and vehicles, and a segment all about “The Man” who is ritually burned at the close of each festival.
The ten years covered are 1998-2007, and one of the bonus features on the disc takes you through the years chronologically. Certainly this documentary will appeal to people who attended in those years and are looking to nostalgically re-live them. But I think the documentary also serves a purpose to introduce non-Burners like myself to the appeal of the festival. As I watched the movie, I was already thinking about what sort of zany art project I could contribute.
More on the documentary can be found at journeytotheflames.com, where the filmmaker is selling copies directly for $12.