The Video Documentation Team operates to document Black Rock City’s theme art and related performances, playa art, and the burning of the Man at the end of the event week. In fact, our purpose is to record any and all of the art at Burning Man within that one week in the desert. A subsection of the team has been working on a project entitled “The Art of Burning Man” (ABM). Its focus is to interview selected theme artists each year as a way to create a full-length documentary showcasing the large-scale installations created for Burning Man.
In the early spring of 2004, the ABM team expanded its focus beyond the playa to encompass Burning Man’s growing diaspora. Independently from the Burning Man Project, crews attended several regional events and captured footage of art previously funded by Burning Man and created by Charlie Smith, which he moved from event to event throughout the summer. Later that spring, the ABM team also conducted an interview with the prolific artist Michael Christian, who has amassed the longest-running string Burning Man-funded projects to date. Michael announced that his installation for 2004 — “Celestial Bodies” — would be his last for the event. This decision inspired an urgency to capture the artist’s creative process before and during the event. In addition, the ABM project visited several other venues alive with pre-playa art-making, including The Flaming Lotus Girls and NIMBY, which housed projects by Rosanna Scimeca, Robert Burke, and Tom Kennedy to name a few.
The Video Documentation team also covered the 5-day Fire Arts Festival in July, co-produced by Burning Man and festival host The Crucible. There we found a petri dish of creativity, with theme artists, fire artists, and performance artists who entertained and educated, all in one location. Art works by the Flaming Lotus Girls, Therm, Charlie Smith, Paul Ceweski, Kiki Pettit, the Sun Brothers, Kal Spelletich, Kasia Wojnarski, Wally Glenn, Scott Gasparian, Bob Hoffman, Nate Smith, Dawn Ryan, Fire Garden and many, many others entranced more than 3000 people over the 5-day festival. The Documentation team enjoyed the event as a pre-playa workout session, right down to the frantic running around with camera in tow to get the irreplaceable shot.
The workout sessions over the summer helped the team to slough off some unwanted weight around the edges. In its fifth year of operations with the Burning Man Project during 2004, the team slimmed down to a svelte composition of three on-site shooters, a grounds control manager, a director/producer, and one newly recruited still photographer whom we took under our wing for a fast and furious flight throughout the world of Burning Man art and performances. Everyday and every night during the 2004 event, we found a theme art performance of some sort or another. We hustled to be at two places at the same time, while taking time for coherent documentation of the art or performances. As we all know, playa time is set to the Greenwich Mean of when things are ready to happen, that is, things happen when they are supposed to happen. Lacking Michael Michaels finely tuned techniques of bi-location, we found ourselves scooting from one performance to the next, often without moments to breathe in between. This pace challenged not only our stamina but also our patience and professionalism at new levels. Yet, like most documentarians, we lust for that one hot shot that shows the “real behind the really.” The adrenaline rush of running from one locale to the next to “capture it” is our form of junk — our celluloid crack, if you will. During 2004, the team brought in over 36 hours of footage, bringing our accumulated footage to 100 hours shot since 1999.
Most Burning Man departments find that their jobs end or slow down after the Man burns, but the Documentation team must keep going, often straight through to the end of October. Working with the mammoth amounts of footage captured at this year’s event, we continued the momentum from the playa to the production room. Post-production efforts began with complete transcription of all footage from 2004 and before, followed by evaluation of all footage for consistency and usability, creation of a script for a full-length documentary, a paper edit, development of a budget to make it happen, and drafting of an itinerary for any production to happen in 2005 — all in one month’s time. As any professional documentary maker will know, that is a manic schedule, and the team is proud of its amazing feat.
Looking forward to 2005, we hope to maintain the thrust needed to let us document art at Burning Man and throughout its growing diaspora. And we look forward to finally completing the “Art of Burning Man” project. [Editor’s note: The “Art of Burning Man” project has been put on hold for lack of funding.]