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Shining a light on Burners

"Spark: A Burning Man Story" to screen at The Grand Cinema Tacoma

Is Burning Man all blissful burners and happy children? Head to The Grand Cinema for answers.

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What a week: the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who,and the completely unanticipated (and hopefully temporary) demise of Brian the dog on Family Guy ... I need a vacation. I'm gonna' go party with some hippies in the desert.

Spark: A Burning Man Story is the latest from directors Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter. This engaging documentary gives audiences a rare behind-the-scenes look at Burning Man. "But what is Burning Man, exactly?" you ask. "Is it that movie where Nicolas Cage screams about bees?" No, that's The Wicker Man, but that's a common mistake. Actually, Burning Man has been going on for more than 25 years now; I'm betting that even the most straightlaced and conservative among us have a vague idea of what it is: "That thing in the desert where they burn a big, wooden guy". Yes, it is that, but it's also much more.

Burning Man is a week-long annual art exhibition/party/socioeconomic experiment held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. Beginning on the last Monday in August, upward of 60,000 people gather for a week of "community, art, radical self-expression and radical self-reliance." Countercultural enthusiasts from all walks of life and all corners of the globe gather together to form an independent community of artists and freethinkers wherein they can exhibit their work, collaborate on large-scale pieces with other artists and commune with like-minded individuals. And yes, the whole thing ends a week later with the burning of a giant, wooden effigy.

While on the surface it may appear to be nothing more than a bunch of hippies living it up in the desert, Burning Man is a monumental undertaking, requiring months of planning and the combined efforts of hundreds of people to pull off each year. Spark treats us to the amusing juxtaposition of people who look like they work at a smoke shop, (including one noteworthy gent using his own beard as a scarf), having a board meeting to address issues of funding, permits, labor and safety. These segments are intercut with footage of construction crews and utility workers preparing the grounds and artists working feverishly to finish their pieces.

Because Burning Man operates as an independent community, it has its own economy. There's no money at Burning Man. Instead, there's a hybridization of communism and socialism called a "gifting economy." All members of the Burning Man community are expected to be self-reliant and contribute to the community's welfare. In past articles, I've discussed why these economic models are infeasible, but Spark shows that if you get enough decent people together, they're actually able to make it work. (At least, for a week.)

You may not ever get the chance to attend Burning Man yourself, but Spark: A Burning Man Story is the next best thing to actually being there. And even if Burning Man isn't your thing, you still have togive props to so many people working together to achieve such an ambitious goal.

SPARK: A BURNING MAN STORY, 6:4 5p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2 and 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, film discussion after 9 p.m. show, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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