Burning Man: Art on Fire review – impressive behind-the-scenes glimpse | Documentary films

If the inhabitants of Mad Max ever managed a mini-break from the grimness of post-apocalyptic life to a festival, it might look a bit like Burning Man – the hippyish summer solstice celebration held every year in the Nevada desert. Gerald Fox’s documentary shows how organisers impressively erect a city for 70,000 people out of nothing in 18 days. It’s a behind-the-scenes look without much in the way of history or context; certainly no voice is given to concerns that Burning Man’s countercultural credentials may go up in smoke as it becomes another destination on the global festival scene, a spectacular backdrop for a sunlit celebrity selfie.

The film focuses on a handful of artists installing their large-scale works in the desert. The French London-based architect Arthur Mamou-Mani is commissioned to design the festival temple, creating a stunning construction of crisscrossing timber that looks like the Eiffel Tower erupting into a volcano. Refreshingly, the building site appears be gender balanced – equal numbers of women and men (though with a sizeable contingent of spangled old dudes in bandanas who look like veteran roadies for Keith Richards).

The art itself is pleasingly unslick and unironical – the kind that would be sniffed and sneered at by the art world. One artist, ignoring the festival’s robot theme, makes a jellyfish the size of a bus out of colourful recycled ashtrays; another builds a deathtrap climbing frame out of junked cars. The documentary was shot in 2018 and watching now, it already looks like a postcard from another era – not just because of coronavirus, but a sense too, perhaps, that tens of thousands of people flying great distances to a power-guzzling temporary city for eco-themed art looks increasingly unsustainable.

Source: The Guardian

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