Confessions of a Burning Man (documentary)

Burning Man is an annual week-long bacchanal in the Nevada desert in which thousands of hippies, slackers and other underemployed 20-and-30-something elements of our society gather to share their art, smoke their pot, and set a huge wooden effigy on fire. It’s a celebration of laid-backness and freedom, two qualities which often take the form of nudity (as if you had to be told).

I have an acquaintance who goes every year (he can be seen briefly in the film I’m going to start reviewing any minute now, as a shirtless guy performing massage on another person) who one year, I’m told, made a bear suit to wear. It was his brother explaining it to me, so the information was second-hand, but apparently the bear suit was “just because.”

Had I talked to the masseuse himself, I doubt I would have received a better explanation than that, as I doubt there IS a better explanation than that. Burning Man is about doing what you want, lettin’ it all hang out, just having a good time. “Confessions of a Burning Man,” the film I have now begun to review, captures none of that.

Directed by Paul Barnett and Unsu Lee, this is a documentary in the most literal sense of the word. It does indeed document some images that a visitor to Burning Man 2001 might have seen, but it gets nothing of the spirit of the festival, and I suspect it barely scratches the surface of what goes on there. Where are the drugs? The sex? I’m not saying that’s what Burning Man is ALL about, but anyone who’s been will tell you it’s part of it. Even a major part, in some cases. Worth mentioning, anyway. But it’s nowhere in the film.

Also absent in the film is any sense of story or purpose. The film follows a few individuals’ lives there, but it would seem nothing of note happened to them all week long. All 87 minutes of the film seem like B-roll footage that could be used as an introduction to a cool film about Burning Man, not the film itself. People who have been will find the film lacking, I’m sure. People like me, who have never been, and who wouldn’t go if you paid them (no proper showers or toilets for a week? Forget it) will continue to be mystified as to what, exactly, is the appeal to the thousands who go.

C- (1 hr., 27 min.; Not Rated, probably R for a lot of harsh profanity, occasional nudity.)