Burning Man – a documentary

Filmmaker Mike DePrez is fundraising on Kickstarter for “Captured” a collaborative documentary about Burning Man, the annual festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert which has huge significance in the story of participatory culture. As DePrez explains, “The idea is simple. There are hours of amazing footage of the Burning Man Festival sitting around on shelves, seen only by a few friends of the people that shot it.  By initiating a large web campaign with the backing of the Burning Man organization, I plan to Capture as many of these video gems as I can and create a documentary that ties them all together into an amazing, emotional, visual story.”

With so much video being shot now, we’re going to see more and more of this type of work – documentary making from the ever increasing archive of what Jean Burgess has called “vernacular video”, with filmmakers using the web and social media to find and gather footage. The team behind 18 days in Egypt are doing just this for the Egyptian Revolution.

There’s nothing new of course about the archive documentary – it goes back to the “found footage” work of Soviet film pioneer Esther Shub. She meticulously combed newsreel archives and “remediated” the footage she found to give the people’s perspective on the Bolshevik Revolution in “The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty” and other films. (If you are in NYC, you’ve got a chance to see “The Fall…” at MOMA this Thursday.)

The archive has since become a key resource for TV history and re-contextualisation of archive content has been explored by documentary essayists from Alvarez to Marker and Curtis. What’s particular now is the growth we’re seeing in documentary making from “vernacular” archive resources from within a community of interest. This isn’t a position that ensures critical distance, but, as DePrez’s pitch suggests, what an insider can bring is passion, privileged access, and a depth of knowledge which can deliver riches for cultural and political history.

Regrettably, I’ve never been to Burning Man, so this documentary will probably be my best shot at getting a feel for its legendary atmosphere and participatory ethos. DePrez needs $4,000 by May 15th. He’s got a way to go. I hope he makes it.

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