The annual counter-cultural happening at Black Rock City in Nevada called Burning Man has been the subject of documentaries before–I recall encountering one at a film festival some years ago–but this appears to be the first “authorized” feature-length study of the event. (It’s named after a large wooden structure that’s set afire on the party’s final night.) It follows four participants–actress Samantha Weaver, heiress Anna Getty, inner-city youth Kevin Epps and cab driver Michael Winaker–as they experience the weeklong extravanganza of artistic expression and other “mind-blowing” activities. One can sympathize with directors Un Su Lee and Paul Barnett’s desire to give their film focus by concentrating on a relatively small group, but unfortunately the quartet they’ve chosen aren’t a terribly attractive or interesting bunch; Epps is particularly inarticulate, but the other three aren’t far behind, and their experiences don’t inform our understanding of the event in any really meaningful way. You know you’re in trouble when you appreciate the all-too-rare rare instances in which the camera moves away from the four main figures to attend to somebody else–a performance artist or even one of the event’s organizers.
Technically “Confessions of a Burning Man”–a title that might sound cute but is actually rather pointless–is a bare-bones effort, adequate but no more. Maybe it does as well as anyone could with this rambunctious but extravagantly self-indulgent festival; unfortunately, that isn’t much.