Burning Man is a cameraman’s wet dream. Several documentaries have attempted to tackle the annual desert experiment in temporary community. Spark is the most inspired by a landslide. Even veteran burners turned off by the event’s inevitable growth and evolution—what they perceive as “commercialization”—will be enthralled by the archival footage contained in this all-access portrait from first-time director Steve Brown.
Curious about the now massive, 28-year-old art party? Brown’s film distills a complex gathering with a rich history into a cohesive narrative. Spark follows two large-scale artists, a theme camp director and the founders as they gear up for a particularly trying year. Ticket distribution issues, leadership challenges and predictably difficult weather are among the obstacles faced as they navigate their respective journeys. The supporting music strikes a near-perfect balance between emotional resonance and underground relevance, thanks in part to custom-penned contributions from Michael Franti and Aussie Missy Higgins. Spark culminates with the 2012 burn, the one that was in jeopardy due to Bureau of Land Management-mandated capacity and unanticipated demand. “It’s a Disneyland where the participants create all the rides,” suggests co-founder Michael Mikel as he cruises the Esplanade, Burning Man’s horseshoe-shape center street.
There are a handful of seats left (55 at last check) for the October 16 screening at AMC Town Square 18. The theater’s already been upgraded once, but they’ve been going like hotcakes so don’t sleep on it. Watching it later via Amazon or iTunes without a couple hundred colorfully costumed burners won’t be nearly as entertaining.
A Burning Man Story, October 16, 7:30 p.m., AMC Town Square 18.