This Strange Eventful History: The Art of Burning Man

This half-hour documentary film, patterned after such films as “Baraka”, shows the stunning art and visual environment of the Burning Man Festival, held yearly in the desert of northern Nevada.

The annual event now known as Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco burned an 8-foot (2.4-meter) wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog. Harvey has described his inspiration for burning these effigy figures as a spontaneous act of radical self-expression.

The event did have earlier roots, though. Sculptor Mary Grauberger, a friend of Harvey’s girlfriend Janet Lohr, held solstice bonfire gatherings on Baker Beach for several years prior to 1986, some of which Harvey attended. When Grauberger stopped organizing it, Harvey “picked up the torch and ran with it”, so to speak.

He and Jerry James built an 8-foot (2.4-meter) wooden effigy for 1986, which was much smaller and more crudely made than the neon figure featured in the current ritual. In 1987, the effigy grew to almost 15 feet (4.6 meters) tall, and by 1988 it had grown to around 40 feet (12 meters).

Harvey swears that he did not see the movie The Wicker Man until many years later, so it played no part in his inspiration. Accordingly, rather than allow the name “Wicker Man” to become the name of the ritual, he started using the name “Burning Man”.

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