The annual Burning Man gathering held on the flat desert landscape of northern Nevada is often depicted as a weeklong party, but a new documentary short by David Shawl ’07 delves into the elaborate efforts undertaken by artists to design massive—and often highly colorful—structures that are ultimately burned to a crisp when the event is over.
“I’ve seen so many Burning Man videos. They’re either focused on partying, or just music or just art,” said Shawl, who lives in Los Angeles and works full-time as a Steadicam operator for music videos for artists including Kid Rock and Kesha, and television shows on NBC, Discovery Channel, and SyFy. “I wanted to give a broad perspective, so I could tell a friend who’s never heard of Burning Man, ‘This is what it’s like for two weeks.’”
The film, DC Goes to Burning Man, captures what happens at the weeklong event that has been held in the Black Rock Desert the last week of August every year since 1986, with about 50,000 participants. Shawl got there a week early in 2012, filming artists building things such as a massive illuminated structure that shoots fire and bubbles and looks like the Washington Monument; a scooter surrounded by lights and wiring in the shape of a very large human head; and a several-stories-tall, cathedral-shaped structure with purple and white lighting.
“I feel really great about having it burned down,” said Kelly Kalac, an artist who helped build the Monument-like structure, in the film. “I like the idea that it’s temporary. I like the idea of putting massive amounts of energy into something and then releasing it…and burning it. It looked amazing. It looked beautiful.”
Kalac is Shawl’s girlfriend, and he focused much of his film on Kalac’s design team, D.C. National Treasure Core, from the Washington, D.C., area, where Shawl is originally from.
Shawl, who studied Film at Emerson, helped raise about $8,000 for the project through a Kickstarter campaign.
“I’m very happy with my [full-time job] but this project was such an aside to anything I’ve ever done,” Shawl said. “It’s so outside my realm. I’ve showed this to colleagues and friends in the industry, including Emerson people, and they’re like, ‘Wow, Burning Man seems like a whole other world.’”