Burning Man documentary director hopes film will be tribute to festival founder

The director of a new documentary about Burning Man festival hopes the film will serve as a tribute to co-founder Larry Harvey, following his death at the age of 70.

Gerald Fox travelled to the Nevada desert to follow the journey of six artists as they built huge installations for the annual event for the film Burning Man: Art On Fire, shortly after Harvey’s death in 2018.

The filmmaker, who won a Bafta for his South Bank Show film about artists Gilbert and George, told the PA news agency: “It infused the thing with a sort of a power and emotion that I don’t think it would have had otherwise, because he was obviously the guiding light, the spiritual mentor of all of these artists who had grown up with him and he had helped them, so I think they wanted to give something really special back to him.

“You realise it’s a big thing for these people because he created what is like a city, out of nothing comes this huge city, and it’s a different kind of world than people are used to so they have this very powerful experience.”

Fox said he did not think the film would have had the same emotional power if it had not been filmed at this time, adding: “In terms of the art and the creation of these structures and installations, I think we probably got the best you could ever get really.

“This year it’s obviously cancelled and who know for the future, but I would be surprised if the scale and intensity and emotional intensity of what we were able to capture will be there again for a while.”

French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani is one of the artists featured in the film and was responsible for creation of the temple Galaxia, which was built by volunteers and was one of the works burned during the festival.

He said: “The family of Larry Harvey set it on fire and at the end they put his hat in there and all sat together while it was burning and it was a really beautiful thing.

“I don’t think it gets more emotional than that. Everyone was a volunteer, us included, the reasons people came were very personal, a lot of people came because they lost someone or they wanted to be part of a common adventure, they went through mental health issues.

“We were on site together for 18 days, it was just the desert and us and no phone  reception it was very human, so every night we told personal stories. It gave this project the meaning that it needed.”

Burning Man: Art On Fire is out now on iTunes, Amazon Prime, GooglePlay and Vimeo on Demand.