Write your comments on the film!

Old Burning Man FacesThis space is for your comments on the film if you have seen it, don’t hesitate to write what you’ve liked and not liked about the film. Constructive criticism is highly recommended. And when you’re done just send those comments to your friends to let them know about the film, this film highly depends on the word of mouth.
Thank you!


  1. maria

    I thot it was great…informative, not negative, but gave both sides. I’ll talk to Colin about it but if the NMA doesn’t show it I’ll look elsewhere.

  2. Dust and Illusions is the best of the BM documentaries that I’ve seen to date. Particularly appreciated the balanced presentation of disparate views on the role and relationships of art, finance, and BMorg administration.

    Well done.

  3. Kelly Saturno aka swervegirl

    As someone who was on the staff of Burning Man for a few years, I learned all sorts of new things from this documentary. Very well done and balanced – gives an insider view into how Burning Man started and interviews a number of the characters still involved and as well as those who moved on to other things long ago.

  4. I found this documentary to be quite interesting and I appreciated the balanced view of the issues that Black Rock City, Burning Man, it’s participants and its organizers have been facing over the years. I enjoyed learning about the history of how Burning Man developed and hearing the perspective of the co-founders and organizers. The visuals were beautiful and I appreciated the cinematography, especially that it was deliberate and slow enough for me to really take a look at things rather than MTV style where by the time my brain registers something’s there, it’s already off the screen. Great job, the roots and evolution of Burning Man have been something I’ve been curious about for awhile now and I look forward to organizing the NYC screening so that others may learn more about it as well.

  5. I loved the film in it’s current incarnation. I believe it has changed a lot since the last time I saw it. The story is much more balanced, even though Larry still looks like a twit and OMG that man smokes too much! There was a lot more on the early history and I learn a lot about William Binzen and his fabulous plans.

    Less Rosa anna and I blabbering on as well, which made me happy!!!

    Good job honey – now DO SOMETHING ELSE!

  6. Thanks very much, Olivier. The film strikes me as a fair representation of Burning Man–certainly close to my own thinking about the Burns I have been to in the last several years since the museum’s relationship with BRAF has developed. I’ll be in touch in the next couple of days or early next week.

    Colin M. Robertson, Curator of Education, Nevada Museum of Art.

  7. Tracy Pitts

    I loved this film and being a first timer last year I felt I learned a lot about the history. Loved seeing the evolution of the Man and the meaning to all factions. The film was very well balanced and I liked the editing of the interviews. Nice to see the footage of the beginning of Burning Man. Very very well done. Go see it!!

  8. Syd Gris

    I thought you did an excellent job and I definitely can highly recommend the film.

    My only wish was that some of the conversations alluded to had been more fleshed out, there were some very compelling topics brought up that I didn’t think got the time they deserved.

    Of course I know you can only do so much, and what you did, you did well

  9. Franny

    See it, You will be glad you did!!!

    I had heard the stories of how BM began, read a few books about it, but nothing comes close to how this film captures BM from its inception. It was so wonderful to see footage from Baker Beach, on up to the large event on the Black Rock. The interviews are great, giving us the opportunity to hear all sides of what controversies have come up over the event. The personal quality of the film and its humor rounded the film up very nicely.

    Great job Oliver, your hard work paid off!!

  10. This is a remarkable film. Olivier not only tells the history of this strange and wonderful event but he allows many of the founders a free voice to tell their own versions of that history. The sense of place created by the cinematography and music almost leaves a grit in your mouth. Olivier weaves together vintage footage of early burns, on the beach in San Francisco, with the dust devil, baked landscape of Black Rock desert, not an easy feat! Bravo! I look forward to seeing the film again soon and hopefully buying a copy when they’re available.

    -Emily Duffy

  11. I loved this film – great to hear so many perspectives and even greater to see the humor in it all! My only wish is that you would have balanced out the 2006 attendee (who talked about walking around in his jeans, and how the non-conformity does indeed become an alternative conformity) with another 2006 attendee that had his/her life utterly transformed by Burning Man – such as myself.

    I met the friends I had always dreamed about that year, friends for life, friends that I left Brooklyn to move to SF for. It changed my mentality, my approach to life, my understanding of humanity, and my hopes for the future. It made me realize the extreme hypocrisies in our lives (just think about the hypocrisy of the Green Man among 1000s of RVs, flamethrowers and made-in-China glowing shit), and it gave me the courage to start living my life on my terms, according to my values. And Im usually a cynical guy.

    And I think this is one of the fundamental things not often talked about – not only does Burning Man create community off-playa (eg the Flaming Lotus Girls) but this off-playa community empowers and inspires individuals to live their lives without compromise. It also encourages individuals to come together in this community in a way that our current Internet/consumer-based culture is unable to. I believe that the good will, positive energy, and supportive community created because of Burning Man outweighs any of the consumption-hypocrisy of the event itself. And if we can welcome the Burning Man philosophy in our hearts, this changes the world because each of our mere existences affects the world in some way each day.

    Reply by filmmaker:Hi Nick, Thanks for coming to see the film. The 2006 attendee’s opinion was balanced with the story of collaboration and transformation of the Flaming Lotus Girls. There’s about 15 minutes covering the Flaming Lotus Girls and how their creative participation is what keeps them coming every year. They talk about the importance of art, and of working together. The voice-over mentions that this is what I believe represents the essence of Burning Man. And through the whole film, we understand the commitment of some of the interviewees to the event, and that is an obvious example on how the event has changed their lives. Chicken John says how much the festival has impacted him, culturally, spiritually, and more over the footage of the Operas of 1996. So I think the subject is extensively covered in the entire film. When the 2006 attendee starts talking, it’s the sequence where the obvious contradictions about the community are being talked about, and comes as a balance to what was shown in the film before, which was mostly all the stuff that we love about Burning Man. And more importantly the aspect of transformation is touched on in a much deeper way than the contrary, since it is treated through an-depth portrait of the Flaming Lotus Girls.

  12. I enjoyed seeing so much LORE! The footage of Baker Beach, the shots of the Suicide Club… And the interviews with the many originators (especially William Binzen and John Law) were great.
    It left me with the question of How to manage growth? Because, as Michael Mikel feels, bringing in more and newer creative minds should be a good thing, but once an event exceeds a certain number it can become unworkable. NYC’s SantaCon has exceeded its ability to be. SO many people participate that there aren’t bars big enough or even one subway train! So is the answer to fraction off? While starting “your own event” seems to be the way to go, you may lose people you want to BE with (create with, party with, camp with, etc.) along the way. Sigh. Perhaps there IS no definitive answer.
    Anyway, I found the film to be very thought-provoking!
    Thank you, Olivier!

  13. Julian

    I can easily say it’s the most thought-provoking documentary I’ve ever seen on the subject of Burning Man. (and I’ve seen a lot!) It brought up many questions and ideas that many of us have spoken about while sitting around our camp on the playa. I had a great a conversation after the film discussing all the points you brought up, such as the future of the event, people turning it into a religion, the role of Larry, etc.

    Great job!

  14. tom

    Great film. I liked your music choices, too. I’d love to see that clip from the early days of John Law in tuxedo doing a forward roll from standing. Any chance you might post that on youtube?

  15. CJ


    Simply the best BM documentary that I have seen so far. It stands apart from the other 4 or 5 I have seen over the years. My only problem with it (and we spoke at length about it after the 6:30 showing in Bkly) is the young interviewee who was spouting off with wild enthusiasm about “ohhh, the drugs!!!, the drugs!”. We have enough issues with law “enforcement” out there, without publicizing that aspect of the event even more. It is a relatively small aspect of the event – people do what they are going to do anyways, and it pales next to the large-scale art efforts, the music, and most importantly, the sense of community which the event is mostly aimed at inspiring. You and I spoke of minimizing or editing that stuff out – it would be a service to the hard-working individuals who create the art, the large-scale camp groups, and everyone who attends the event, to minimize the drug-taking issue here in the film.

    Thank you for listening, and I’m waiting for the DVD.

  16. julia

    Thanks Olivier for the showing here in Seattle last night.
    I’ve seen most all the books and films about BM and this by far
    did the most justice to what the scene is really about. I especially appreciated
    all the early footage and info concerning the Suicide Club and John Law. Being
    an old cacophony member it was really wonderful to see and hear the connections
    woven so sweetly together.

    I also appreciated the lack of ‘sweetness and light’ in your film. The edgyness
    and raw wild abandon that is at the heart of burningman really shone through.

    It is not an easy thing to try to distill something so complex as burningman.
    You did a very fine job.

    Thanks again,

  17. Your film reminded me of how important it is to stake out a point of view to make a memorable film of this kind. It would have been far easier to make a film with everybody saying how great Burning Man is, how freeing and creative the experience is, how visionary and cool Larry Harvey is, etc. And, that would have been boring. Kudos to you for immersing yourself in the subject, developing a more nuanced view, and telling the story as you see it. I don’t have to agree with you to appreciate your talent, or to thank you for the inspiration. Thank you!

  18. Kathleen McNelis

    Thank you for sharing this important film Friday evening (July 2009)in Detroit (brought here by Jeremy Hockett). I am one of the new, uninitiated for Aug-Sept 2009 event. This film presented a wonderfully detailed history of the movement from its genesis to the present, and beyond.

  19. Dave Yount

    WARNING: Contains Spoilers, read if you have seen the film, or you are just too curious. ANSWER from DIRECTOR at end of comment.

    This is the best documentary of Burning Man I’ve seen; I have seen 4 others. I especially appreciated the patience given to exploring the earliest history, with Larry Harvey and other carpenters in San Francisco, so much footage on Baker Beach, the Suicide Club, John Law, the Cacophony Society, Zone Trip, William Binzen, Michael Mikel, sail surfing, shooting ranges, as well as the development into an event with tickets for sale, and ultimately a robust LLC running the show like a successful business. There were many personal struggles uncovered and I felt a loss that some of these early participants’ ideas are no longer significantly present after the mid 90’s. Bravo on your success and I look forward to the DVD so that I can personally share it repeatedly with friends and future friends!

    I respect it’s your film (so much work and cost!) and perhaps you have your viewpoint to build by choosing with careful intention, out of all that raw footage which interviews to include and especially which parts of those interviews to use.

    The biggest question I had about your final editing, after viewing the film, was about the univeristy English Writing teacher, first time attendee; he attended in 2006. Of course it’s compelling to film interviews of “first timers” to get the first blush or raw impressions of how the totality of the event affected them. But I thought it curious that aside from him, all your other choices were of people with significant personal experience with BM, either they had attended many many years or they had attended several years and they also were involved very heavily with a BM group.

    Whereas his opinions and personal experiences are of course valid and I have no deeper question about what he says, I do question why you included him as the only “first timer”? There are plenty of critical views expressed by many other well seasoned ‘Burners. Omitting him might not have lost much in the full balance of the film? Or, including other “first timers” with contrary experiences and opinions to his might have been more engaging?

    You shared with us after the screening in Seattle that you had earlier collected much footage from many long timers, but that most all of that footage was not workable because the individuals weren’t able to coherently / succinctly make their personal experiences understood through words. I wonder if there might exist workable footage that would directly balance what the English teacher wearing his jeans said, but you made a choice not to include that?

    The very extensive photos / film and nearly as extensive interviews about the Flaming Lotus Girls felt long to me. But, I didn’t see that bulky treatment as a thoughtful direct counterpoint to the english teacher.

    The ending, I agreed with the several similar comments offered after the screening, I felt was markedly negative. You chose to use Harvey saying that “community” is diminishing in our society. I can think of two prior segments in the film where that specific quote would seem an engaging fit. But, making it the final word, alone……. I think few if any viewers will make the interpretive leap that you offered – that since Harvey believes community is diminishing in our society and that since BM offers community then more people should attend BM. I don’t see the present ending as a sales job for promoting attendance, as you suggest.

    I can only speak to the (non BM) groups I physically participate in throughout Seattle, Tacoma, Salt Lake City and San Francisco but I would resoundingly disagree with Harvey. I am finding community is building in society.

    I learned of the Seattle screening thru a Burning Man related email group.

    Thank you!

    Dave Yount.

    With regards to the Patrick Mulroy’s interview (teacher), he comes in as bringing a balance about the community aspect of Burning Man. Ultimately he was the most eloquent in his point of view, and didn’t have the history or attachment to the good old days (that some old timers have sometimes). That’s why I chose him. Long time participants are also included such as Adrian Roberts, Charlie Gadeken who expressed their love for the event in the own ways.

    With regards to the ending of the film, cultural differences will make someone find a good balance in the whole film, and other find the ending somewhat negative. The film focuses on the evolution of the Burning Man event, from its genesis in the minds and ideals of a few young people 30 years ago, and how these minds and ideals have evolved themselves. And although I personally disagree with Larry Harvey about communities ceasing to exist, I find it interesting for him to say so, and I believe this might simply be a deformation of reality from his point of view due to his intense attachment to this event. To me, this is the most intimate look I could bring about someone who has lived such an experience over 30 years. The internal conflicts he had to deal with, the struggle with reality, working with others, and trying to create a community with such ideals are the most interesting subject to my eyes here.

    I wasn’t so interested in the communities outside of the larger event, as they have not matured yet (30-40 years would make me call this coming to maturity), and I wanted to focus on a few individuals, so anyone who watches the film can find a human dimension to such large scale experiments.

    Lastly. In the film, the Flaming Lotus Girls are a representation of the sense of bonding that happens through this event, whether they represent what happens for everyone or not doesn’t really matter, what matters is the motivation and inspiration with which people come together to produce something for this event or in correlation to the culture the event has generated. I believe it is important to have as much as them in the film as there is… a detailed look at the way they work is the best way to express their passion, rather than have someone say “it’s the passion”, it wouldn’t bear fruits.

    It isn’t easy to watch a film about something we are so involved in, because our feelings, our history, our experience is going to affect our perception. Just the words “Burning Man” evoke so many diverse feelings in people’s minds, and what the film talks about might not represent all those experiences, but in the end that wasn’t the intention of the film.

    I hope this address your remarks. Thank you for posting them, this is an important discussion for me.

  20. Love the humour and brutal honesty. Amazing collection of footage and interviews. I had read Patrick Mulroy’s review online (http://timmy.vox.com/library/post/burning-man-our-review.html) and thought it was hilarious. Glad to see him in there! I was also wondering how come the official Burning Man website was so complete and well maintained since the event seems pretty chaotic…I got my answer.

    Great movie Olivier. Montreal will see you soon.

    À Bientôt!

  21. Joe Bamberg aka Madam Josephine

    This was so much better a movie than what I was expecting. I saw it at the Doc Fest at the Roxie in San Francisco. I only had a general understanding of how BM had come about. I liked how the film made that alive. Until seeing this film I never really got what the “oldtimers” were complaining about. It is easy to do something to make fun of or to disrupt what others do such as by burning the man early. It is hard to find some new way to connect people. I don’t necessarily agree with the oldtimers point of view but would love to see it encountered at BM. But how do you engage people to have a meaningful interaction about ideas at BM?

    I was at BM and was surprised to come upon some people watching “burn baby burn” a movie about the 2001 burn. It seemeed wildly perverse to come to burning man with all this stuff going on around you and then sit passively and watch a movie about it.

    This could be the film to show at burning man. I could see showing it in short clips each followed by activities. Clump up audience into small discussion groups. Have people place themselves in a square where the two dimensions of where you are standing in the square express your opinion of two burning man values. Now we can see the collective opinion of the group. Have the groups go off in a little suicide club activities. Make watching the movie into an interactive rather than passive process. It has possibilities.

    My thanks for all your effort to create this wonderful film.

  22. Hey Olivier,
    this is a great film and the best I have personally seen on Burning Man to date. Very well structured with great achival footage, access to the organizers & artisans.

    It gave me a true insight into the how important art plays in the success of the festival, about community and collaboration.

    It will be a pleasure screening it to Australian audiences.


  23. Dust and Illusions is the only worthwhile documentary about Burning Man. Most are navel-gazing, utopian affairs. This movie is a candid look at the event’s history and development from a simple beach party (with a huge burning wooden man) into a 50,000 person weeklong adventure in the desert. It highlights many of the artists behind the monumental sculptural installations, and gives a voice to its discontents as well as cult members.

    And did you know about this croquet game in Black Rock in 1987? (This is the only Sports Illustrated link in the Balktick Broadcast, ever.)

  24. Because I’m a librarian and research everything to death, I knew a lot about the history of Burning Man. However, this movie showed me a lot of things I DIDN’T know, and presented it in a beautiful, interesting fashion.

    I wish it delved into some aspects of what happens AT Burning Man besides parties (like skill sharing and crafts and that sort of thing – even a brief mention would have provided more of a picture).

    This is really about the history of Burning Man, about how it has come into existence. I enjoyed it. If there is another showing, I’d like to bring my mother as she’s quite curious at Burning Man (and I want to bring her to Burning Man, but I don’t want to camp with her – a little too much!).

    This is highly recommended for any Burner or anyone interested in BM!

  25. Olivier,

    I thought the film was fabulous. The footage was outstanding and so well put together. Kuddos to you for tracking all that down. I definitely learned so much more about the multilayers that are Burning Man.

  26. Janice

    I loved the movie. I’ve wanted to go for over 15 years, and this is the year. I’ve attended the Regional Alberta FreezerBurn for the past two years, and it is a fantastic community. Regarding the movie, I really hadn’t realized all of the politics involved! Thank you for putting the effort in to creating the movie, I look forward to the experience!

  27. Craig

    I loved the film. It told me a ton of stuff I never knew but always wanted to know about how Burning Man has come to be this amazing community / event / behemoth that it is now. I had no idea how many diverse elements came together as tributaries to form this one big thing.

    Seeing the film helped me put into words why I love Burning Man so much… and why it drives me crazy, too. There were many moments throughout the film when the audience laughed out loud and applauded, far more than at any Hollywood film, because we connected with it so intimately (and with each other as BM participants in the audience).

  28. Zoey Pickel

    my name is Zoey, and i have been participating in Burning Man for the past five years. I enjoyed your perspective on the festival, yes, its community has changed. However, i felt you left it a little ambiguous. this could easily have been your artistic choice in order for the viewer to interpret it in whateve…r manner they see fit, but i feel like you didnt touch bases much on the fact of natural evolution.

    by this i mean the natural way of things to grow, and with that comes unavoidable change. i can completely relate to the spiritual ties you felt when the festival was small, and quite extraordinarily revolutionary, dancing around the fire in a sacred celebration and release. even from the first year i attended the festival to this year, i have most definitely seen a change in the trend of people that attend, from more dedicated non conformists to many a bunch of wild party animals completely letting themselves go in the desert. but the spirituality is still in full bloom.

    last year the temple burn was probably the most moving experience of my life, atleast 10 thousand people still around, and hardly a word spoken. community was in its essence here, because we all let ourselves go in a collective consciousness to the montrous flames. before this happened the past year i would return from burning man and say i wasnt going back, for the exact reason of your criticism in this movie- the change in motives! from spirituality to partying, is the general one i experienced. but this temply burn proved to me that the heart beat of burning man is still beating powerfully.

    i appreciate your documentary greatly, it explored many things of burning mans origin which i was not aware of (suicide club etc). this helped me to see a perspective such as yours, experiencing the immense change and evolutionary aspects of the festival from point A (at its origin), to point B at its current state.

    Thanks a million! we really need collectivness such as Burning Man for the future. It is people like you that are making sure its heart beat stays strong.

  29. Lara Arnott

    I’m chiming in with all the commenters who appreciated the vintage footage in the field. I’ve never seen any of it, just heard about it. It was great to see the genesis of Burning Man.

    And you captured the playa in all it’s moods. Beautiful to see.

    I loved the comment from one of your interviewees who said the magic of Larry Harvey is that he “keeps doing it.”

    I think the films stands fairly solidly as a historical documentary. However, I think as a reflection of the current Burning Man experience, it is skewed. You really presented it like two halves of a coin, drugs and raves (trailer trash) on one hand and art (intellectuals) on the other. While your material on drugs, raves and art was well chosen and accurate (I LOVE the Flaming Lotus Girls), there were many other aspects that were not covered at all.

    For example, the interactions of “community” at Burning Man did not come through, except for the communities of particular art groups.
    Portraying the varied human interactions at Burning Man would definitely be a challenging thing, legally and artistically. But finding a way to show it would be ideal.

    So, a good documentary provokes discussion, and here it is. The message of comparing the roots of burningman with it’s fruits, is a great one. As a BM participant, I sometimes feel that it’s getting easier to Armchair it at BM. Stretching your own boundaries requires intent, energy and inspiration.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  30. Joanna

    Saw the film last night. Really great scope; enjoyed hearing the many viewpoints. One comment, near the end of the film, that Larry Harvey made- something along the lines of ‘community is disappearing’, this seemed to stick with me. Is it? It is. But it is not going away, it is changing. Maybe my perception of community is changing as I now live in a highly (overly) populated urban setting and can’t seem to connect in that good-for-your-guts kinda way. Good things take time.
    Harvey’s comment makes me rethink community, in fact Burning Man is a good example of how I see community transforming in our society. We are all more or less scattered, not often staying in the place we were born. We seek and create community in fleeting spans of time, as it serves a purpose for ourselves and those around. Regeneration, rejuvination, using our hands, exchanging ideas and skills, finding familiarity in unlikely places and people.
    Maybe this helps us to jump back into our home lives again? Maybe it satisfies repressed impulses of a very social and freedom-loving species.

  31. Cindy

    My fiancee and I saw this in Philadelphia recently and both thought the same thing. We did like seeing the old footage and hearing more about the founding of Burning Man. It was interesting to us that towards the end of the film it seemed that some of the founders expressed some disillusion with the event. While we are sure that, since the beginning, Burning Man has taken some turns that nobody could have foreseen, it’s still a vital experience for most. Maybe the founders have gotten too far away from the folks on the streets, but for us, our week at Burning Man IS our community. Working side by side with our camp mates to feed hundreds of people every night is more neighborly than anything we have in our default world. That said, we enjoyed the film and thought it presented a balanced look at how this event came to be.

  32. The Cigarette Gnome

    Very good documentary. I was glad to see some balanced criticism, even though I fully support Burning Man. I really enjoyed some of the early clips of the Cacaphony Society and the Suicide Club. Good job!

  33. Mark Slee

    I attended the screening in San Francisco last night and really enjoyed the film. Given how complex and hard to capture Burning Man is, I am impressed with the way this documentary presents its criticism. It is both tactful and nuanced.

    The film gives a lot of insight into Burning Man’s history and founding members as well as the filmmaker’s own perspective, but it manages to do so without becoming prescriptive about what Burning Man means, how it should be run, or what it should become in the future. It effectively connects questions about Burning Man to larger questions about the roles of creativity and community in human society at large.

    Rather than attempting to answer these questions directly, the film ultimately turns them right back on its audience, which I thought was a fitting ending — very in line with Burning Man’s ideal of us all being participants rather than observers.

    Thanks for making the film, very well done.

  34. MoHude

    I recently attended the screening a tthe World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.

    WELL DONE!!! i really really enjoyed the screening! To begin, the World Cafe was a good palce to host it, and definitely did justice to the presentation (and i think everyone liked the food)! But i really, really enjoyed your presentation of the history of Burning Man. I’;ve been researching Burning Man for most of the year, but your film certainly went more in depth into areas I hadn’t realized had been so influential (such as the Cacophony Society- I’d known it was involved, but there seemed to be more of a merger that happened, which i wasn’t aware of). Also, I liked the focus on some of the more fundemental contributors and why they did/didn’t stay with Burning Man over it’s physical and ideological transformation. I recently just got done reading AfterBurn: reflections on Burning Man, by Lee Gilmore and Mark Van Proyen. I appreciated your film a lot because it was very much like the book, except i thought yours was more focused and in depth, and therefore much more educational. And interesting! I couldn’t believe that you got all that film (or even that it existed!). I feel like no one really films anything, anymore, so that was a really cool window to be able to look back through. Oh! I also like that the film, kinda, was a subtle roast of Larry Harvey, but that it didn’t just criticize- it just exposed that this man, kinda of eccentric and spontatneous and flawed, didn;t always do it right, but was the one who kept it going, for better or for worse, for 20 years, “longer than the hippie, beatnik, and a few other movements combined”. In short, i thought this was a really good insight for people not only in the culture, but ones just getting started. Thanks and great job!

  35. Crimson Cass

    I actually found the English teacher’s comments refreshing … I am glad you included his viewpoint, he was very articulate and funny. Burning Man is such a complex experience – this is an excellent documentary, as it’s not all starry-eyed and uncritical.

    I saw it at the Toronto screening; it was a really special week for Burners in the city because the Flaming Lotus Girls had their Angel of the Apocalypse installation all week at a free festival – right in front of city hall! It was great to see all kinds of people getting a little of the BM magic, and to see the playa-inspired flames shoot up in the frosty, January night.

  36. Michelle Harris

    More than a history: a well-constructed story, efficiently placed images, daring statement, but gracefully done without anger.

  37. Castaway

    FABULOUS FABULOUS FABULOUS !! It’s important to me to have a film to really show the =depth= of what is Burning Man, especially for relatives or friends who are averse to going to give them a sense of what I’m talking about, visually, viscerally. PLEASE make it available for sale someday soon. The film is coherent and comprehensive and funny – very important.
    FOUR critiques:
    1 PLEASE do not show this at Delancey Street Theater again. I thought I was being interrogated by Russian Mafia upon entering. And, it’s one thing to not be allowed to bring my drink in, but, when I checked it, they could give me no receipt. They looked at me suspiciously like I was vermin invading their bourgeois enclave of South Beach or whatever that neighborhood is called. It was =not= a fun place — not a place that is welcoming to the bohemian types that this very film is about.
    2 I would have liked to see David Best as part of the film (did I miss him – was he there?)
    3 I would say that your treatment of Larry Harvey was fair and balanced — ALMOST. You almost, but not quite, achieved “fair and balanced”. I cringe a little on his behalf — there were a couple moments where you were making fun of him, a little unnecessarily, it seems to me (worst possibility, you made this film with somewhat a sense of being an outsider, free to air others’ dirty laundry?). Also, this piece does come off a little as Borg-2’s position about Burning Man: it’s all about the Art. I do believe the art needs a LOT more support by the ORG, but I’m more of an “It’s all about inventing community – let the art follow community” person, so I somewhat disagree with your basic premise. Somewhat. I am glad you critiqued Larry’s calling the whole thing a “ritual”, though (uggh!).
    4 VERY IMPORTANT: please re-edit this film for the following ONE factor: there is a long segment of BRC (at night?) with rather quiet-ish, almost meditative soundtrack right toward the very end of the film. It then cuts to Jim Mason (this is the final clip showing Jim Mason) saying something (this must be in the last 5 minutes of the film, or so). JIM MASON’s VOICE =blares=: the sudden jump in volume level is =paifully= startling right after a long meditative sequence and this jump in recording level does not serve any apparent purpose. I am particularly sensitive to this myself, but in this case other people in the theater, I noticed, were visibly startled as well. I would mix down the record level at the very beginning of Mason’s quote then bring it right up (or mix up the end of the meditative sequence). This was the only moment in the film that had any sort of disturbing transitions, though.
    AGAIN, hugs all around for your accomplishment !

  38. Tim,

    1/ Delancey St, I should have explained is a non-profit organization that helps homeless/addicts, people who have hit bottom get back on their feet. SO they have very strict rules about what is possible to do in their enclave. Far from bourgeois, they are people who have gone so low, they are trying to protect the place, and one way they do it is with very strict rules. I feel that the bohemian types should really support what the Foundation is doing, it’s important work that works! So I will continue showing the film there to support them.

    2/ David Best… would have been another man in a series of quite a few male portraits already in the film. But I didn’t choose him intentionally. He has inspired many people, but after following his crew for a little while, I didn’t see the kind of cohesion, and long term goals that I have found in the Flaming Lotus Girls (FLG). The FLG have built a group of artists, a community, which main purpose is to teach newcomers the art of metal/fire work. Their second goal, through which they achieve the 1st one is to build sculptures. With that in mind, a natural sense of belonging emerges through the group. And I haven’t found that in David’s crew (and here I am calling it David’s crew, the FLG are the Flaming Lotus Girls, period. No leader, no #1 artist,… other reason I have chosen to feature them), even though a sense of belonging transpires, I haven’t felt it to be as strong. This comment doesn’t come from a scientific comparison b/w the 2 groups, rather an emotional response to spending some time with them.

    3/ Hard to say what BM is about really. Everyone sort of owns it. It’s not all about the ART. But the approach to the ART is the only aspect that is truly unique to this event. The temple and its spirituality, we know too well, that it is well represented all around the world. The communal experience exists in many places, often not as publicized as BM is. But an event where the participants are left to make this event what they want it to be, very uncommon at this scale. BM to me is unique in this call for creativity… which I too often simply call ART, but it’s not just the sculptures, it’s all the performances, the impromptu little accordeon concerts, the tuna meals, etc… People pull their creativity together and bring it there. That’s what I wanted to celebrate in the film, and BORG2 did what they did, and they made it about the ART, because they were sculptural artists and that’s what they knew best. I wanted to illustrate one point of community upraising and how it was received by the ORG. It wasn’t just about BORG2, it wasn’t to celebrate BORG2, rather to celebrate the community that our need to create builds organically.

    4/ That I know… give me a minute and I’ll fix it. Thanks for pointing it out. And thank you for your comment, critique is our life blood… in France 🙂

  39. David Wilson

    Thank you for creating a very comprehensive and fair summary of the Burning Man phenomena from the first burn at the beach to the present. After five trips to the picnic in the desert myself I was surprised by how much I did not know about the pople behind the event, their divergent visions and philosophies, and the evolutionary forces behind the scenes.

    The movie was put together masterfully with a good but not overpowering soundtrack and beautiful scenes from past events that for me evoked the spirit at the time they were happening. The interviews were insightful and just detailed enough not to lose my interest. I loved the characters such as Chicken John and Flash especially, but Larry’s personality was always present and bigger than life. The last time I saw such an ego was watching Bill Graham in “Gimme Shelter” many years ago.

    I would have liked to see some more attention paid to the current and ongoing issues that have plagued recent Burning Man Festivals such as clogged porta-potties, theft and other crimes, and the incredible clean-up efforts that are needed to pick up after all the participants that have no clue what “Leave no trace” means. I understand, however, that the movie needs to be held to 90 minutes or less and the bad behavior of a few yahoos should not determine the tone for the rest of the movie anyway.

    The movie has given me fresh eyes with which to view this years picnic.

  40. Adam

    Saw the film in SF last night and thought it was great! Really enjoyed learning about early BM and my favorite part was all the early footage.

    I thought the criticism was fair but one sided. I would like to have seen more participants of recent BM’s interviewed. I think that group was not well represented and might have shown an opposing view to the criticisms.

    Please release the DVD soon – I know of a lot of people who would like to see this firm!!!!

  41. I truly believe this might be the first film to tell the FULL story of Burning Man from its inception to its current status as a subculture.

    BRAVO!!! Extremely well done.

  42. Alan

    It was a fun event. I liked the energy in the crowd and it was nice to see people in the Portland Burner community again. You said it had been edited for the Portland showing. That makes me wonder about what I’m getting when I watch a film. I wonder, was the editing to try to maximize the marketability of the film? You covered the basic changes that occurred when people got hurt for lack of rules, and some of the complaints about the way the organizers do things, but I think you could have covered a lot more issues. For example, I don’t think you gave much coverage of the ordinary BRC citizen and how he/she has changed, in other words, how the community itself has changed, which might give clues about the future of the event.

  43. Having entered the Burning Man scene right at the turn of the century (my first burn was 1999), I found myself confronted by a very large, multifaceted event which, I had to admit to myself, I knew very little about. By that time the window had become quite opaque to most new-comers wishing to learn more about the behind-the-scenes history, politics, and management of Burning Man. Other than public Internet sources, all of my perspective came from bits and pieces of hear-say gleaned from folk-lore and tales recited by other burners. “Dust and Illusions” filled in much of the background missing from my over-all perspective of Burning Man. Most of all I appreciate the interview with Larry Harvey, where he explains that Burning Man has evolved in the direction of promoting the establishment of cultural community. Furthermore, I think Larry quite correct in saying that deconstruction and destruction of community resides at the heart of present-day America social-political trends. Simply put: the totalitarian “statist” fears community above all else. Individual people can be individually managed, but autonomous communities are much harder to manage – just ask Larry Harvey.

  44. I am so glad I took the time to go see this film. It really opened my eyes to the various aspects of the burn in a way that probably would have taken my multiple years of attendance to really “get”. (Now, I still plan to attend for multiple years, but maybe I will get farther ;))

    I loved the film and am very grateful to Olivier for putting it together. I know film-making is not easy. I have written a more extensive review on my BM blog if anyone is interested:


    Olivier, I appreciate how you are able to shine light on parts of society that are underground or little understood.I was intrigued by your comments at the Portland Q&A about your current investigations, and I look forward to your next film with great anticipation.

    Full Review

    On Thursday night, I went to a screening of Olivier Bonin’s documentary on Burning Man, Dust and Illusions.

    This was at Cinema 21 in Portland, Oregon, one of the only independent movie theaters in the state. The showing was at 9pm. The line — which wrapped around the block in both directions — was sprinkled with not a few blinky lights and furry costumes. An Amazonian woman in green fluorescent fishnets tore my ticket.

    Inside was a movie audience quite different from the general public. People were standing around in groups, talking, hugging, and connecting. It seemed likely that entire camps had come to the film together. It was also clear that a good portion of the audience was coming for the spectacle, and had not attend a Burning man event.

    I checked out the balcony, hoping for a grand view of the screen. More talking, laughing, slapping. Someone lit up a joint. Another guy passed a flask around. Now THIS was a movie audience.

    I ultimately chose a seat in the main auditorium, and it was packed. The start of the screening was delayed so we could cram more people in. Bonin stood up to introduce the film and said it was one of the best turn-outs he had seen so far in ~35 screenings.

    Olivier shared with us that he had just added ~3 minutes of footage to the start of the film, so we were seeing a new version, never-before-screened.

    Then the film began.

    I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t even seen a trailer. Would this be a starry-eyed, fanciful celebration of found footage? Would it be a spare, haunting docudrama about the difficulty of survival in the desert? Would it be a harsh, finger-pointing denouncement of the spiritual poverty of the modern world?

    The film turned out to be none of these things, although it included elements of all of them. This film explores art, politics, power, conformity, and the meaning of community. It at once celebrates the unique culture that has risen up around The Burn, while simultaneously asking hard questions about the motives, methods and execution chosen by the organization that runs the event, and the participants that attend.

    The participants, largely responsible for the success of the event, then and now, are given intense scrutiny. The revered artist and the bro’ish weekender are shown side-by-side, as they are at the actual event. Is Burning Man a magical alternate reality, or an RV theme park?

    Bonin is a competent film-maker. The documentary is at once funny, insightful, inspiring, and entertaining. It does a thorough job tracing the origin of the event, from its roots on Baker Beach in San Francisco in 1988, to its cunning-yet-haphazard amalgamation of elements from the underground groups The Cacophony Society, the Suicide Club, and Desert Siteworks. It cast Burning man in a new light for me, opening new vistas of perspective I might not have uncovered after multiple years of attendance.

    When you’re seeing this film, you are seeing Burning Man through Bonin’s eyes, and these are the eyes of a man who has been to Burning Man five times, spent many hours contributing to playa art from the Flaming Lotus Girls t the giant Crude Awakening, and had direct access to some of the founders’ progenitors and key influences, including Larry Harvey, John Law, Jerry James, Michael Mikel, and many others intimately connected to the genesis and evolution of the festival. All this access, all this footage, and all this history are distilled into an eminently watchable, even engrossing, documentary that ultimately raises more questions about the event that it answers.

    I think good filmmaking makes us think, and Bonin has done that. He pulls no punches, yet is not cruel; he is disillusioned, but not bitter; he is searching, but leaves us, at the end of the film, to quietly ponder our own thoughts, and draw our own conclusions.

    Is Burning Man — can it be — more than dust and illusions? Bonin doesn’t answer this in the film, but I suspect he has a private answer for himself.

    The lights came up, the crowd cheered, and Bonin got on stage for the Q&A session. Instantly, I could separate the hardcore Burners from the curious bohemian Portlanders who were anxious to get home to bed on a cold Thursday night.

    About 3/4ths of the audience evaporated, and those remaining moved closer.

    The questions started out simple, even banal, and got more political and pointed as the evening wore on. Will there be a sequel? What’s your next project? Are you going back to Burning Man? What do you think about the Burners Without Borders controversy? How did you get Larry to take off his hat? How does the organization feel about this film?

    Bonin’s answers were insightful and revealing, but hardcore Burners have strong opinions, and the audience members began phrasing their questions in the forms of political statements. Bonin sensed this and called for the last question.

    Audience member: “Do you think the message of [the] Crude Awakening [art exhibit in 2007] was undermined by the massive amount of fuel it used and C02 it released into the atmosphere?”

    Bonin: “I don’t think that’s a question, right? Listen, when you are on the playa, and you drive 30 or 40 miles off away from the city in the direction the wind is blowing, there is trash everywhere.”

    If at all possible, catch a screening of this film. See the screening schedule at Dust and Illusions.com.

  45. Chris Radcliffe

    Having been there early, I can tell you this movie is like old home week to me.The stories you hear are the same one’s that we’ve told around campfires to ourselves. Each one of these guy’s, including Larry, wanted to burn the man early for years but didn’t have the balls. Go, Paul.

  46. I think Dust & Illusions is a thoughtful, enlightening, and well done historical film about our Burning Man culture and its colliding aspects. I truly enjoyed the early footage and the histories of the “Wild West” contribution and the Cacophony Society.

    I have witnessed the collision with Rave culture firsthand and have found it more and more unsettling each year. Yet, there are thousands that come to Burning Man looking for exactly that. When it’s all said and done I agree with The Lotus Girls’ standpoint – contributing to an Art Project seems to be the best route.

    “You can only go to the same party so many times….”

  47. Having heard various stories of the origin of BM it was good to finally learn the real history.

    But more than that, the film questions the central tension of this sort of event: how does one put together an event that celebrates radical self-expression while still organizing upwards of 50,000 people so that a temporary city still works for everyone?

    Last night our audience (Thursday, Oct 28, 2010) gathered during a Giants game to watch the film. Our group was mostly in standard SF street wear…no fur or blinky lights that I noticed.

    Pretty early on it our audience was less generous with comments by Larry and others when they said in the film that organization was key or the event would degenerate into “a mob” (actual quote by Larry). San Francisco has a history of questioning authority and that showed up here in various disapproving gasps when “authority” asserted itself in the film.

    I understand the need for spontaneity and expression, after all that’s why I go there and most of my friends are burners. At the same time, having organized events I understand the BM leadership’s view, too.

    The film did a good job showing that a small group of people, the Suicide Club, Cacophony Society and Desert Siteworks, could be responsible because the ethos of the event permeated each member and each member took personal responsibility for the safety and creativity of the event. But once the attendance grew beyond the originating group, the inevitable yahoos who didn’t have the same sense of responsibility would do stupid things. As Larry points out in the film — they have to deal with the threat of the lawsuits. I just have to go there, bring whatever my contribution is that year, explore my inner world for seven days and come back.

    On the other hand, the film did make me want to lose the fireworks on Saturday night more than ever. And I could detect the pull toward ritualization in Larry’s speaking, and that’s something to watch out for. Although I personally have no trouble with a bit of it, we humans to tend to bring that too far; note the crazy number of religions we regularly seem to create and then convince ourselves are real instead of all made up.

    Still, despite its need to change as it “grows up” I would rather be with the Burning Man community than anywhere else on the planet for those seven days in September.

    So this is the mark of a good film. Whichever way your particular opinion falls on the matter you will be thinking about your role in the community, the nature of community itself, the tension between self-expression and the real need to organize 50,000 daily porta-potty visits — all while several layers of government increasingly scrutinize your every move.

    I’m very glad I saw the film; I hadn’t realized the void I had not knowing the history of the event. It’s funny, though, now that I know the history I’m a little out of sorts. Something got dislodged by seeing the film, perhaps my own idealization of Burning Man?

  48. Jon Sundell

    We had a wonderful screening here in Helsinki with a great turn out. What a wonderful film! Insightful for anybody like me who is interested in self-generated, communal and spontaneous art experiences. Insightful lessons on what works and what doesn’t. Thanks so much!

  49. Bwana

    I went, reluctantly, to see this film. Not reluctant about the film or the focus, but reluctant because of my general disillusion with the whole cult process of the festival. The history has been re-written and sanitized so many times any film like this will have the neo-created memories of the individuals in charge rather than any true history.

    I was more than pleasantly surprised. Sure there are a few misstatements, and a whole lot of “current-day-spin-speak” from the self appointed gurus of the cult. Everyone happily buys that the original man was NOT Larry’s friends burning away his ex-in-effigy after she left him with his child (Can’t lose half your audience and ticket sales and make it a sausage fest). But the spin was minimal.

    What was not minimal was the drawing and connection to such things as Desert Site Works, The Suicide Club, and a real opening up of the visions of so many artists, trustifarians, musician and pranksters that brought this festival to life. It is well worth a watch, no matter what your level of participation, or your diefied belief in the cult.

    My first year was 1991. I came to the event as a researcher from UC Davis on an anthropology project. Been there, blew that up. Watched the festival grow, was an insider, watched the current board claim they invented everything since two hydrogens and an oxygen made water. I can see why many in the org don’t like it as it cuts into their omnipotence claims, but you don’t have to see it that way. Its just a good film, period. I think this film is like democracy, it may not be perfect, but its the best thing on the BM Cult I’ve seen so far.


  50. Joolz

    I went along last night just out of interest – I’ve never been to BM. It was a pretty interesting doco from my perspective. It seems quite balanced. Some great footage of the old burns and looks like he’s done a great job with the research. I thought it was a really interesting look at the progressive development from a group of friends hanging out to a full-blown massive festival. Well done.

  51. Vanessa

    Loved it…loved the history, the footage and the intelligent, funny commentary/interviews…best film I”ve seen for awhile…left on a high…not to mention the festival it’s self as fantastic subject matter.

  52. KiXi Dust

    hey Oliver
    I was looking forward to seeing this movie for months and missed it as I am in the process of moving to Brisbane! I would LOVE to organise a screening there we have been talking for a while for the Brisburners to meet up so this would be perfect!

  53. This documentary was a fascinating look into the history of Burning Man and provoked much thought about it what it was and what it has evolved into. There is excellent footage of the beginnings of this event. Recommended viewing for anyone going to the festival or anyone curious.

  54. Nutmeg

    I thought this film was great. I will probably go to the second screening here in Eugene, Oregon in order to get a better understanding of it. I felt like I missed a few details. I do believe it made me a little nervous though. I am naturally just worried that my friends, myself, and others take substances for granted and do it just to party instead of using them for the journey. This film I felt touched on that thought a lot. The man who made this, I’m assuming, had lots of different footage and viewpoints to use. He could portray many ideas, but seemed to have shown this one idea a lot. I thought maybe he was saying it just to help us realize that we can take this party any where, and to any height, but we have come to a slight standstill. Say’s the one woman in the film and one of the flaming lotus women. I am only a 2 year Burner, working on my 3rd, and have seen a little bit of this, but not much. I was thinking that maybe he showed it to us this way to grab the attention of those few stragglers out there that haven’t quite figured it out yet. The one’s doing shady things and getting high just for the party(greatest party on the planet that is) to help us tighten up our ship. Ship shape! But what’s inside that possible stand still is amazing! The pure connection that I have experienced there, shows nothing of this worrisome thought. We are very much alive there. Connecting to other individuals. Loving. Gifting. It seems like the people that were there from the roots on have lost that connection, in my opinion from the footage I saw. But this isn’t their party any more. It’s ours. We can do anything that we wish with it. It’s not them that tells someone to bring this art piece or that. It’s us. We make it happen! We participate. Were the movers and the shakers. So I guess when it all comes down to it, I’m a Burner for life! Nothing can mimic this spectacular place. We can only hope to take those experiences to the world and show them what is possible. If I could marry Burning Man, I would! I do have this one question: Is Larry and the other people interviewed, that seemed so uninthusiastic, still the main organizers? If so, I think their jobs should be passed onto others that do still have the flaming fire that is Burning Man deep down inside. Thank you so, so, much for sharing your art with us. I know that many thoughts were provoked with the showing of this film.
    )'( We are everywhere )'(

  55. Baj

    Hey ho…
    Thanks so much for this docu….. I thought I was going mad…and then watching your film has given me belief that getting totaly immersed in creativity is not madness… I just have to remember to step back into the real world occasionally to keep house and home together…
    I really hope that the group of ‘responsible’ adults looking after the event can find a way of pulling it back to the original concept of ‘freedom in the desert’ and not letting it morph into another ‘Disney’ theme park..
    God Bless you all. Baj. Europe Jan. 2013

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