News Column

'Spark: A Burning Man Story' review: Way too dry

September 6, 2013


Sept. 06--Documentary. Directed by Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter. (Not rated. 112 minutes.)

For a film that aims to capture the audacious, imaginative spirit of a certain festival held annually in Nevada, "Spark: A Burning Man Story" could use some spontaneous combustion.

In fact, this well-intentioned, competently produced movie is drier than the Black Rock Desert and often plays like an HR promotional video: From first frame to last, there's not a creative ember in sight.

Directors Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter obtained excellent access to Burning Man headquarters in San Francisco, to the participating artists, and to the 2012 extravaganza itself, but the filmmakers try to stuff everything into one movie, a decision that smothers the storytelling.

Worse, a cloud of control seems to hover over the proceedings, as if the filmmakers are afraid of offending any Burning Man sensibilities. When "Spark" is tackling the ticket availability controversy, for example, the film becomes so measured that you'd barely know there was a problem.

Perhaps most surprising, even the festival footage is ho-hum. We feel a distance, instead of being flies on the wall. (Or should we say, on the desert floor?)

None of the characters makes much of an impression, though the art installations do. The film picks up for a bit as we see the preparations in the desert -- and the level of detail that goes into planning an event of this magnitude. That could have been a movie by itself.

All in all, "Spark" proves something that Burning Man organizers would be the first to acknowledge: If you want to understand this festival, you need to go there and experience it yourself.

David Lewis is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:


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