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movies

Beyond Black Rock October 24, 2006 Friday

Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock (2003)
Rating: star star star star star
Actors: Citizens of Black Rock desert
Director: Damon Brown
Production: Gone Off Deep

A Film Screening
I was at Yogurt House having an after-dinner conversation with some people when the subject of Burning Man came up. Apparently all of them are familiar, or have heard about it, and have intended at one point or another to be there. Hmmm...like-minded individuals. I ended up offering to host a screening of a Burning Man movie, Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock at my place, the following day. Mimsy, San Fran tourist Erin, American writer Glenn and peace corps volunteer Nancy were in attendance.

Synopsis
Burning Man is a glorious 7-day festival that happens on a dry lake bed in the middle of the Nevada Desert. While it lasts for 7 days, the preparation and the behind-the-scene that goes on to make this a reality is a 365-day undertaking. This movie is about the 7 days...and the other 358 days, documenting the monumental scale that takes into account the philosophy, vision, dedication, creativity and tireless efforts of the artists, organizers, founder and participants that make up the city of Black Rock desert.

Larry Harvey
Larry Harvey is the founder of Burning Man. Folklore has it that his girlfriend dumped him. Distraught, he gathered a few friends, went to a beach in San Francisco, and burned an effigy of a man. He never confirmed or denied this.

More importantly and very interestingly, he talked about all the failures in his life that eventually led him to found this festival that now attracts over 35,000 people annually, with regional chapters all over the globe. Yes, a failure. He failed as a bike messenger, failed as a gardener and failed in just everything he involved himself in....until Burning Man. While some Burners dietify him, he really doesn't take himself seriously, nor any of the high-profile Burners for that matter.

DPW and Rangers
Of all the sub-cultures that make up the inner workings of the Burning Man organization, none is more hardcore and exclusive than the DPW (Department of Public Works) and the Rangers. DPW takes care of the Burning Man infrastructure. Rangers roam the playa ensuring the well-being of the Burners are looked after. No, these are not cops. They are Burners like everyone else, who take the tenets of Burning Man seriously...very seriously. As DPW head Will Roger, said, they have already filtered their group to weed out the whiners and the less-committed. They work hard together, sleep together, eat together and have sex together. You think the US Senate is the most exclusive club in the world? Try getting in to DPW or the Rangers. Tiger, a friend, fellow Burner and an accomplished carpenter, approached the DPW to volunteer his services. The reply he got was a polite, "No thanks. We're ok here".

Cast of Characters
It was up close and personal, knowing more about the tireless and devoted workers of the Burning Man organization - Crimson Rose - Danger Ranger - Harley Dubois - Marian Goodell - Will Roger. Through their collective effort with volunteers, an empty dried up playa is transformed into a city complete with its own newspaper, radio station, central chillout area (Center Station), emergency ward, clean and countless portolets, greeters, lamplighters...it's really a long list. These unsung heroes 'clean the ashtrays' and 'cook in the kitchen' as the party goes on.

Ending Thoughts
I've seen this movie a couple of times and I'm still moved by some of its powerful scenes and quotes. To see it is to relive the magic of the playa all over again...albeit in small doses.

More than anything else, this movie goes beyond the hype of mainstream media and captures the indomitable spirit of the Burning Man community from the ground up, inside-out. The viewer is led to understand and appreciate how a marginalized fringe counter culture event that took place at a San Francisco beach 18 years ago, has now morphed into a global community of artists and radical self-expressionists.

--- TheLoneRider

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