5 years of research, filming and interviewing many people involved with Burning Man, I’m happy to announce the documentary is done, and started screening in March 2009.

Film Synopsis: Dust & Illusions explores 30 years of history of the Burning Man event. Born in the underground of San Francisco in the 1980s, the festival became the largest counter- cultural event in North America. It is unique in that it is created by the people who come to the event, the participants, not the organizers, and in that sense it has survived its original ideals/utopias, but the ideas have been eroded by time, pressure from the larger society. The film is a look at this necessary evolution and expansion and questions our ability to stand behind those ideals over a lifetime.

First Effigy of the Burning Man (1986)About Burning Man: Burning Man started officially in 1986, on a god-like vision of Larry Harvey… well at least that’s what he says. Harvey had been living a pretty hermit like life with his girlfriend in Oregon until 1978 when he moved to San Francisco. There he met diverse groups of creative people, that certainly influenced him to go down to Baker beach with his friend Jerry James and other carpenters and burn the first little Wicker Man like effigy (he will deny the Wicker Man origins, but that’s the version I personally prefer).

Later on the event kept happening on Baker Beach until 1990, where police stopped them from burning it. The San Francisco Cacophony Society was organizing a Zone Trip (excursion of their own) to the Black Rock Desert 2 months later and invited the Burning Man to come with them on Labor Day of 1990 (September). There were 89 people.

Eventually the little gathering grew into a large scale festival, that features a large amount of Art specifically built for the event by people from all over the world, but mostly within the United States. Nowadays what makes the event still unique is its location (the Black Rock desert is a federally protected natural preserve 200km from the first city Reno), its concept (the organizers take care of the legal permits, the infrastructure, but do not bring any of the Art and entertainment available during the event. That is brought by the participants themselves to their own costs) and its length (it goes on for 8 full days).

Filming at BM with the worm

Director’s Note: I discovered Burning Man in 2003. I had lived in San Francisco for 5 years at that point, and had heard about the event, and the general accounts sounded like “It’s the most amazing experience you’ll ever have”, “It has changed my life”, “It’s a wild decadent party”… Born in France, I had a hard time to believe the first two about a one-week festival in the desert. I always thought that things that change your life are not a single event in your life but rather they’re based on a long process – which we might not always be aware of. And after 5 years in the USA, I also started to have a good understanding of how always mesmerized Americans, at least the ones from the San Francisco area, seem to be about everything. Always genuinely exaggerating. On the other hand I had no doubt that a festival with 40 or 50,000 in the middle of desert could degenerate into a wild decadent party.

Party at the Deep End campSo in 2003, I finally decided to go, and see for myself what kind of life changing experience the desert party really was. I packed some food, a tent, and went off 6 hours away from San Francisco. When I started to see the city, 10 miles away, emerging from the desert floor, it looked like Mad Max. Literally. A flat piece of earth, with dust plumes rising high above the ground, and a massive encampment in the middle of it. It was a very surreal vision. How could a place like that really exist? Once I entered the festival, it still looked like Mad Max with all these tents and shade structures, and sometimes a vehicle that resembled a space ship, or a simple couch on wheels. People appeared as if they had been residing there for a while, and for some, as if they had lost their mind. Indeed, decadent, but more like the end of a civilization. After a few days, I started to have a better feel for this city in the dust. People had come here, and for the most part set up camps to party, drink or do some yoga. Some were more elaborate than others, but in general, it seemed like a lot of money had been thrown into the camps. Based on the festival rules, no money could be exchanged here, and those who came prepared were here to give away their drinks, massages, and music 24/7.

In the end, Burning Man is different from other festivals because the attendees are the ones providing the entertainment, not the organizers. It gives a strong sense of freedom, since anyone can make anything happen. But a party remains a party, and quickly the original curiosity softens out. One aspect, though, made the festival really unique: the Art. Outside the boundaries of the encampment, in the open desert, lied around some pretty impressive sculptures. With the desert floor as a canvas, the mountains as the frame, the place Party Art Carwas transformed into a gigantic museum, where the artwork was left to the madness of the participants and the natural forces. That museum appeared like nature had ripped its walls down, and there were left the pieces of the last exhibition. Again, it felt like civilization had just ended, although, quickly enough, an ambulant rave party would come cruising by merely using the artwork as a reference point in their journey to nowhere.

When I came back to San Francisco, I decided to learn more about the organizers and the artists responsible for this extravagant gathering. It took me 3 years to discover everything that I know about Burning Man today. Very early on, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Flash who has been a very close friend of Larry Harvey, the main founder of the event, since Larry’s arrived in San Francisco in 1980 and I have lived quite a few adventure with him and others, allowing me to get pretty intimate with some historically important figures of the festival. In 2004, I also joined the Flaming Lotus Girls, one of the emblematic groups of artists who have produced impressive sculptures of metal that spits large amounts of fire for the festival. My participation in their group allowed meeting many other artists and active participants as well as people involved in the organization of the event.

The Serpent Mother by the Flaming Lotus Girls

During those 3 years, most of these characters have shared with me the stories that have made their lives and the history of the event, and of its deep origins in the counter-cultural movements of the late 70s and 80s in San Francisco. It was only in this manner that all 22 interviewees that make the documentary, opened up to my “intrusive” questions, my provocations and questioning of their beliefs and culture, allowing for an in-depth look at the birth and rise of one of the major counter-cultural event in North America of the past 30 years.

The documentary is a look at another attempt to create a community with more humane values, and how hard it is to escape the system of the larger world we live in. There’s a little bit of hope, though, through the portrait of the artists that truly make the event unique. For them the weeklong festival is like a wink of the eye, since groups like the Flaming Lotus Girls spend the other 51 weeks of the year creating their artwork, and there, in their collaboration, they find the social connections we seem to miss more and more.

Background on how the film was made:
Burning Man is unique to me in the sense that everything you find at the event is made by the people who come to it, and actually pay their own ticket. The organizers make sure to get the permits, and set up a minimal infrastructure, such as supply bathrooms, security, medical tents, and also bring all sort of machinery to help people build their art and their gigantic camps.

Artists building their art

Artists building their art

When I started the documentary I met many groups of artists, building giant sculptures for Burning Man. They would often get together months, sometimes even a year in advance, to design, gather the materials, meet to decide, organize fundraisers, and build a piece of art that would most certainly only be seen once at Burning Man. And some groups like in the 2 left pictures above would build giant sculptures of wood, temples, to burn them down at the end of the event. The people behind the art would often not be full time artists, they would have a regular job, and work at nights and weekends for a full year with no other goal than to blow the mind of others and certainly theirs. I was mesmerized by the energy, and the will to create art only for the sake to create art, and often share it once for a single week.

After my first year, I decided to make a documentary… because the story needed to be told. But Burning Man beyond the art, is like a free, open-minded community that comes here for a week to let go of many hang-ups that we all have and that builds up throughout time, and coming around with a video camera is not really considered a good thing. People come here to be free of the everyday world, and express that freedom in many different ways, that often needs the voyeuristic eye of the camera to be away, in order for the freedom to be complete.

It became obvious that I had to make my camera work as integrated as possible in the Burning Man experience, to avoid interfering with anyone’s experience. I wanted to become one of the builders, one of the artists of that community. And I was going to try to do it with a camera.

A few months in the process, I decided to film a lot more than what I needed to produce the documentary with, and actually to follow groups of artists throughout an entire project, and then give them all the footage that I had for their own usage… do whatever you want with my footage, since it’s about what you have sweated over for the past year. My contribution is small in comparison…

The funny thing that happened through becoming part of these groups of artist is that I discovered the other side of Burning Man. I discovered what it takes for the artists and the organizers to put the event together, but I also discovered the politics, I discovered the battle for power, the real relationships that existed between the people who were so deeply involved with the event. As I was experiencing completely how creating and organizing was the key to building a true community of people, I was also seeing how that couldn’t be without some people imposing themselves over others, and naturally pushing some away no matter how creative they could be!

That became the story I wanted to tell… the story of a community that built itself over 30 years, since its origins in the late 1970s, and how it dealt with its exponential growth. That is DUST & ILLUSIONS. The visual Illusions that the desert creates through its many weather patterns, the Illusions created through the many states of the mind everyone goes into there, and I ask: maybe the Illusions that what we’re doing in the desert and year around is really different from the way our larger society functions.

Hope to see you soon at a screening to talk more about these things and others.
Olivier Bonin, Director.


Below you will find some testimonials that some of those artists have written for me. I asked them to write a small letter in order to help me convince the Burning Man organization to publish a request for support in their massive newsletter (called the Jack Rabbit Speaks – JRS) that goes to thousands of people.

I am writing in support of Olivier Bonin’s request to post to the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter.  In 2003 and 2004, I led the team that created the “Sonic Runway” — a 1000 foot corridor of pyramids extending out from the Sol System theme camp, with lights timed to the speed of sound.  Like most Burning Man projects, it was an enormous struggle to bring our gift to the playa.  Amid the chaos of building, repairing, repairing again, and finally tearing down our installation, we were only able to take a few photos to share with those who couldn’t be there.  But, particularly for an animated installation like the Sonic Runway, even the best photos can’t convey the essential point of the work!  Sure, I brought a video camera with me, but honestly never had the energy to try to film anything.  Even if I had, I doubt I could have captured the night time lighting installation effectively.  For years, I showed friends and family photos and described the installation, but pretty much always ended the conversation with, “well, it looked really cool in person, but it’s kinda hard to describe”.

A few months ago a friend happened to stumble across Olivier’s footage.  What a gold mine!  Olivier had posted the raw, unedited source material for his documentary online — his gift to the playa.  A friend from our camp contacted him, and Olivier generously offered to transfer the original high quality footage from the source tapes.  His tapes included interviews with camp mates, as well as footage of the construction process.  Amazingly, he managed to capture the Sonic Runway in action.  For the first time, I can show my parents what it looked like!  Thank you, Olivier!

Olivier is a Burning Man artist in the final pushes of a multi-year project.  He has given a huge gift to our community.  Please consider granting him access to the JRS newsletter so the community can help him get his film out the door.  I can’t wait to see it!

Thank you,

–Robert Jensen. Sol System sound camp.

I am an art car and mutant vehicle artist who has participated in the Burning Man event for 14 of the last 15 events. I usually bring out a mutant vehicle or two; in 2002 and 2003 I led the team that brought the big white whale out to the playa.

I am writing this email to support the idea of letting Olivier Bonin be able to put a listing on the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter to enlist support for his movie project.

I first met Olivier in 2004 and have always been impressed by the fact that unlike most other video documentarists, he has shared his digital video footage of my projects with me. This has been very valuable to me as I would not otherwise be able to share what I do with those who were not at the original performances. And he shoots better footage than anything I have been able to achieve on my own; his footage that he has always shared freely with me has been of a higher quality than much other video that I have seen. Through this process of documenting and sharing, I have become close friends with him. He is one of the good guys in my book.

Thank you for considering letting Olivier have access to make a JRS listing.

Best Regards,
Tom Kennedy. Art Car Artist.

I met Olivier Bonin on the playa during the installation my sculpture ‘Jadu Beta’ in 2004.

Olivier introduced himself as a filmmaker who was interested in documenting the artist’s experience of making work in the tumultuous environment of the Black Rock Desert.

I was and still am, specifically intrigued by his authentically sincere interest in creatively investigating the varied work, thought processes, and unique challenges that artists encounter on the playa.

Olivier and his assistant were invited to shoot video during the installation, which he dedicatedly pursued frequently into the early mornings and at times, to the possible detriment of his delicate equipment. He was very amicable and respectful to both my ten-person crew and me.

Subsequent to the festival, Olivier has generously shared his beautiful imagery of high quality video without requesting anything in return – an unusually gracious gesture consistent with the notion of sharing and community that is intrinsic to the Burning Man festival.

I have made work for the Burning Man festival in 2003 –2005. These wonderful experiences have changed my life. Sharing my work with the Burning Man community and meeting the many talented, hard working people on the playa has been a continued source of inspiration.

Video is a great medium to capture the phenomenal environment of the playa and the tremendous efforts required by any artist who desires to install work for the festival.

Olivier is a devoted filmmaker whose work I believe will offer an interesting perspective to those who have participated in the festival and to others beyond the Burning Man community who have not had the opportunity to experience art work on the playa . I am eagerly looking forward to the result of Olivier ‘s efforts and support his request for access to the JRS so he may enrich and expand his creative endeavor.

Saul Melman. MD, and Artist.

Over the past three years, Karen and I have spent many months working long days in the attempt to create monumental exhibits for Burning Man. We have typically found ourselves in the company of many talented people who are willing to invest their own time and energy in selfless volunteerism towards our cause. Often, these people come along and handle tasks that we had forgotten to consider or simply lacked time and finances to deal with ourselves. This kind of “donation in kind” to the work we do is really why we can be so bold as to try it in the first place. Olivier is one of those unsung heroes. He has generously filmed many hours of footage for us as a gift in order to help us document our work, both in our shop during construction and at Burning Man. It is always difficult to show people what we actually do. In truth, the final piece is just a small part of the art. When Olivier films for us, his high quality documentation helps to tell the whole story. It is truly a critical component of the entire process and we feel compelled to point out the importance of his work for us. It is really about perspective. Olivier films as an artist, capturing artists. It means his work is really part of the art. We want to see him supported any any way possible, just as we receive the support form the greater community.

-Dan Das Mann. Artist.

Olivier is an incredible filmographer. Since the flaming lotus girls met him, 5 years ago,this film has been his passion and glory. He has spent every spare moment filming us, other art groups, and the burning man event. He accumulated thousands of hours of film on the event. It is truly a testament to the collaborative nature and history of burning man, the people, the art, the vision.Flaming Lotus Girls met Olivier in 2004 when he came and filmed us for the making of the Seven Sisters. It turned out to be a wonderful collaboration. He became part of our group, documenting our work, and becoming part of the making of our art. Hard as he tried to stay independant, by coming to our shop and filming our work, he became a valued member of our group and part of the flaming lotus girls. He has filmed every art project we made since then, Angel of the Apocalypse, Serpent Mother, Mutopia.

I know you have seen the first cut of Dust and Illusions. It is an interesting, intelligent, unique perspective of burning man, told by the citizens of black rock city, and the dilligent work of olivier in filing, editing the piece. Olivier has put in a massive amount of work to get it to its current state. He has been a one man army in the process. What he needs is help and support from the Burning Man community to take it from the preview to a complete movie, ready for presentation at film festivals around the work.

We all have wonderful, amazing, incredible memories of Burning Man. But memories are forgotten. What will make a place for Burning Man in history, is the documentation of the experience.

By supporting Olivier, you will provide an opportunity for people who have never seen or heard of Burning Man to experience it and get some understanding of what the event means through Olivier’s work.

Pouneh Mortazavi. Artist. Flaming Lotus Girls.

I ask that Olivier Bonin be given access to Jack Rabbit Speaks.  He has spent years documenting Burning Man and its art. His film “Dust and Illusion” is a valuable and thought provoking record of the history of the event.  It will bring the vision of Burning Man to many who cannot attend the event,.

As a Burning Man artist I feel a special debt to Olivier for the job he has done documenting the work we do..  I met Olivier when I started working with Flaming Lotus girls a little more than 4 years ago.  He was documenting before I arrived and since then has not only made a great video record of The Angel of the Apocalypse, The Serpent Mother and Mutopia but been there to record how these works were dreamed and made, installed, run, and dismantled.  He was there at the birth of Swarm. He has documented the work of Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusalito, Tom Kennedy, Pepe Ozun and many others.

When folks study Burning Man art of this decade this record will be invaluable.  Our work is ephemeral.  We only see it whole when it is out at  Black Rock.  Olivier’s videos gives us a way to revisit our work and it also opens a window to Burning Man to the great majority of folks who never had the opportunity to see it.  Olivier’s work is a gift to our community.  He deserves the right to speak to that community through JRS.
Thanks for listening.

James Stauffer, Artist, Flaming Lotus Girls.

A film by Olivier Bonin Madnomad Films & IMAGINE ©2008.
バーニングマンには本来「NO SPECTATORS(傍観者になるな)」というポリシーがあり、主催者ではなく、個々の参加者によってイベントが形作られていくべきだとされていました。しかし、時代が進み、イベントが拡大してゆくに従い、当初の理想から変化を余儀なくされていきます。すべてのイベントが内包しているこのような問題に対し、「ダストアンドイリュージョンズ」ではバーニングマンの成長や拡大を追いつつ、人生においても同様に理想を追い求める事が可能なのか、問いかけます。




First Effigy of the Burning Man (1986)バーニングマンとは:公式な見解では、バーニングマンは1986年にラリー・ハーヴェイのひらめきによって始まった。オレゴンで恋人と仙人のように暮らしていたラリーは、1978年にサンフランシスコへ居を移す。ビート・ムーブメント、ヒッピーカルチャーを体現するさまざまな人々が住むサンフランシスコでラリーは大きな影響を受けた。そして1985年、彼は友人のジェリー・ジェイムスたちと映画「ウィッカー・マン」に登場するような巨大な人形を作り、「バーニングマン」の名前でベイカー・ビーチで火を放ったのだった(彼はウィッカー・マンが元ネタだというのを否定しているが、個人的にはこれが一番気に入っている説だ)。今も続く、バーニングマンの儀式が始まった瞬間だった。

この後も1990年までベイカー・ビーチでバーニングマンは毎年続けられるが、拡大し続けるイベントに警察当局がついに介入し、ベイカー・ビーチでバーニングマンを燃やすことを禁止してしまった。2ヶ月後、アート集団「コカフォニー・ソサエティ」がネバダ州北部にあるブラックロック砂漠へZONE TRIPと称して旅立ち、行き場を失ったバーニングマンをどこまでも巨大で自由な砂漠へと招き入れた。ブラックロック砂漠でのバーニングマンは、わずか89人の参加者と共にこの時から始まったのだった。

バーニングマンはその後急速に拡大し、世界中から数万の参加者を集め、会場はアートで彩られるようになった。人里離れた巨大な砂漠という圧倒的なロケーション、「NO SPECTATORS(傍観者になるな)」のポリシーで行われる自由なアート・パフォーマンス、そして8日間というイベント期間。他に類のないこの特徴が、20年経った今も人々を魅了し続けている。

A film by Olivier Bonin Madnomad Films & IMAGINE ©2008.