Burning Man Festival 2002: This segment is from the Burning Man film "AQUABURN",directed by Bill Breithaupt. The segment is about the crazy world of Dr. MegaVolt. Burningman's most beloved ICON .
AquaBurn is an award-winning documentary film by director Bill Breithaupt showcasing "The Floating World" theme of the 2002 Burning Man Festival. AquaBurn features many of the incredible Burning Man art installations, the imagination and originality that went into their creation, and the artists who conceived them. Unlike conventional documentaries on the Burning Man Festival, AquaBurn captures the true feeling and excitement of the event itself, transporting the viewer to a hot, dusty wonderland without ever leaving home.
AquaBurn introduces you to artists like Peter Hudson, who created Sisyphish, a life-size 3D zoetrope of a swimmer, Nate Smith, who conjures a 20 ft. fire tornado, David Best & his crew’s 78 ft. Temple of Joy - a tribute to 9/11, Deirdre DeFranceaux’s beautiful sculpture of singing sirens, Shane Rogers and the Sky People show off their sky diving skills over Black Rock City, Terry Shreck’s glowing metal sculpture Beacon, and Kiki Petit’s incredible fire waterfall Egeria.
Although not the first Burning Man film by Bill Breithaupt, AquaBurn has become the most popular. Breithaupt is a ten year Burning Man veteran, having attended and filmed the festival every year consecutively since 1999, when he ventured out to the playa for the first time and was blown away at what he experienced. Returning home he couldn’t stop talking about how amazing Burning Man was. Realizing that he never could quite convey the experience to others through words, he decided to express it through film, a medium he’s been working with for over 20 years. Breithaupt hunkered down and spent hours editing his footage into a film, Playa Project, which featured Dr. Megavolt. When he came back to the playa the following year he brought with him 100 copies of Playa Project to gift to his fellow burners. This became his annual tradition, filming, editing and returning the next year with films to gift on the playa.
In 2000 Breithaupt started screening his films at Flambé Lounge, a pre-Burning Man party held in San Francisco. At Club Cocomo he gave the video jockey a copy of Playa Project, which was promptly played on the screens in the club. It was a hit with the crowd, hailed as “hip, new, and exciting”. The next year at Flambé Lounge they showcased his film, Got Fire? from Burning Man 2000. It was through this event that he met Andie Grace, Burning Man Org Communications Manager, with whom he shared his idea of a Burning Man Film Festival to showcase the many Burning Man films suddenly springing up. There was electricity in the air as people embraced the year’s upcoming theme The Floating World at the Flambé Lounge Blue Ball in 2002. Breithaupt showed his 2001 film PlayaScape, and the crowd was ecstatic, cheering in unison as the credits rolled.
A few months later, in July of 2002, Burning Man Head of Media Operations, Jim Graham offered Bill Breithaupt a spot in the 1st annual Burning Man Film Festival held in Santa Cruz, CA. This was a surprising request, as Burning Man is known for having strict policies regarding filming at Burning Man and the usage of such footage. Jumping at the opportunity Breithaupt headed to Burning Man for his fourth year in a row, partying with his friends and filming the entire week as usual. Aside from the beautiful time-lapse footage and cinematic shots he’s known for, he also captured some fantastic insight from his fellow burners thanks to the verbal skills of his good friend Scott Sheppard. When he returned home he locked himself in his studio and edited, determined to make his best film yet. With only three weeks between the end of Burning Man 2002 and the day of the film festival, he began burning the midnight oil, editing 14-16 hours straight, rarely sleeping. At the end of this crazy schedule Breithaupt had edited a total of 180 hours, and was off to the festival without having slept for two days straight. The final result was the film AquaBurn. The 300 + audience that packed into the Rio Theater that day were awed. At the end of the film they cheered, then quieted to watch all the credits, and then cheered again, rising to give Breithaupt a standing ovation (at the end of which he thanked his mom). True to form, he filmed the audience’s enthusiastic reaction, and was even quoted as saying “it was one of the best moments of my life”.
Despite agonizing pain from a previous neck injury, he then logged an additional grueling 620 hours of editing time and then AquaBurn was finally complete. It also received approval for sale from the Burning Man Organization, granted to only a few select films. In a meeting with Maid Marian, Burning Man Org Mistress of Communications, she said “AquaBurn rocks my world!” Keeping all this in perspective, Breithaupt did all this for the love of Burning Man, receiving no financial compensation from Burning Man Org. All expenses were paid out of his own pocket.
In 2002 Breithaupt departed from his usual one year format and edited a 5 minute short film comprised of 3 years of footage at Burning Man, titled Are You Lost?. He entered it into the Upward Rising Online Film Festival and out of 38 final selections it won 3rd place!
In 2003 Bill Breithaupt was again asked by Burning Man Head of Media Operations Jim Graham to create another film, this time to headline the 2nd Burning Man Film Festival in Santa Cruz, leaving him only one month between Burning Man and the film festival to edit a new film. With less than two weeks till Santa Cruz, Bill took some time off from his grueling editing schedule to attend the Coney Island Short Film Festival in New York. Not only was AquaBurn an official selection in the festival, but it won the title of Best Documentary Short Film. Returning home with a cleared mind, Breithaupt resumed his editing schedule and completed Burning Karma the very morning of the Santa Cruz Burning Man Film Festival.
Burning Karma is darker and more intense than its predecessor, AquaBurn, yet it maintains a focus on the incredible art installations of the year's theme (Beyond Belief). Following many of the artists from AquaBurn, we see Terry Schrek’s project “In God’s Hands”, Peter Hudson’s return with Sisyphish, David Best’s Temple of Honor, plus sky diving footage from Brian Burke & the Sky People, all set to classical music and hypnotic techno beats.
Spring of 2004 was a busy time for Bill Breithaupt. AquaBurn was an official selection in the New York International Film & Video Festival, which he attended. After spending a week in New York promoting the film, he flew straight to London for the first international Burning Man Film Festival. A more perfect venue couldn’t have been chosen than the über-hip Ritzy Theater in Brixton. Breithaupt was stoked to find out upon his arrival at the theater that AquaBurn was headlining the London Burning Man Film Festival. At the raging after-party at the Brixtonian Breithaupt bumped into Larry Harvey, founder of Burning Man (who has been known to comment “AquaBurn, yeah, we like that one”).
In July of 2004 AquaBurn also headline The Burning Man Film Festival held at the Raven Theater in Healdsburg, CA. It was such a hit with the crowd that they demanded more and an impromptu screening of Burning Karma and Are You Lost? followed, even though most of the audience had already sat through hours of Burning Man films.
A few weeks later Head of Burning Man Media Operations Jim Graham once again offered Bill Breithaupt a spot in the 3rd and final Burning Man Film Festival in Santa Cruz. Breithaupt set out for the playa as usual, for his 6th consecutive year. While he was at Burning Man that year, AquaBurn was once again earning recognition in the film festival circuit. The 2004 Action/Cut Short Film Festival screened and judged nearly one thousand films on the parameters of: subject originality, content realization, visual-storytelling, production values and viewing engagement of work. Having gone through such thorough scrutiny, AquaBurn received the Special Jury Award for Documentary Short. Breithaupt was greeted with the news of his win when he returned home from Burning Man 2004. As if that weren’t encouragement enough, Burning Karma was also beginning to gain notoriety. For the second year in a row one of his Burning Man films, this time Burning Karma, was an official selection in the Coney Island Short Film Festival. Rather than trying to make the trip to New York just days before the Santa Cruz Burning Man Film Festival this year he decided to stay home and edit AstroBlaze.
AstroBlaze, like its prequels, was edited in under a month and premiered at the 3nd annual Santa Cruz Burning Man Film Festival. A mellow, reflective piece, the film focuses on returning artist Peter Hudson and his mind-blowing life-size 3D zoetrope Deeper. Nate Smith’s project, the Singularity Machine, (the fire vortex from 2002 perfected) also gains attention. In the film we are introduced to new artist Kate Raudenbush and her project Observer/Observed, a 10’ x 10’ cube of 2 way mirrors that gives it’s entrants a new perspective. Another new artist featured is David Biggs and his project Constellations, a participatory piece invoking a deeper look at the ties that connect Burning Man participants to one another.
An onslaught of film festivals followed. In November that year AquaBurn headlined the Under the Couch Film Festival in Newport Beach, CA. In December it was shown as a Special Selection Kiosk Film at the Hi Mom! Film Festival in North Carolina.
AquaBurn was chosen as an official selection of the Flint Film Festival in May of 2005, and the Crested Butte Reel Festival in August. In September of 2005 Bill Breithaupt made the trip to New York once again. AstroBlaze was an official selection of the Coney Island Short Film Festival, making it the third consecutive year that one of his films had been chosen by this film festival. Founder Rob Leddy put on a fantastic film festival, with a smashing pre-fest party including a freaky side show & engaging burlesque performances. It was an honor for Breithaupt to attend the festival and present the film to such an eager and appreciative audience. Also attending the festival to support AstroBlaze was one of the stars of the film, Kate Raudenbush.
In February 2006 AquaBurn was chosen for the new Cinequest Online Film Festival. In February of 2007 Burning Karma was chosen to be the only film shown as part of the exhibit “Burning Man & Beyond” hosted for one month by the Santa Rosa Junior College.
Officially beginning on Baker Beach in 1986, Burning Man began on an impulse when Larry Harvey & Jerry James created a man out of wood and burned him on the beach. Various myths and rumors circulate about what the man represented: a love lost, a memorial to Larry’s father, etc. Larry insists it is not what it represented that matters, but that the act of burning the effigy was the “first recorded form of what we now call ‘radical self-expression’ ” (from Burning Man’s MySpace page) a concept that became his gift to the world. Others joined him for the burn on the beach, bringing their influence and arts, having their own moments of “radical self-expression”. The crowd grew each year, and in 1990 San Francisco police stepped in to halt the expanding event, and a new location was obtained in the Nevada desert.
Now, over 45,000 people travel to Burning Man Festival at Block Rock City in the Nevada desert to participate in an experience that is unlike any found in modern society. For one week in late August they become part of an experimental community, which challenges its members to express themselves and rely on themselves to a degree that is not normally encountered in day-to-day life. They are to provide their own food, water and shelter, enduring sweltering temperatures often above 110 degrees and overwhelming sandstorms.
In the face of such a formidable environment the society flourishes. There is no commerce, Burning Man is built upon a gift economy mentality. No commercialism, no vending, no money at the Burning Man Festival. Gifting is part of the experience. And an experience it is. All around the playa large art installations challenge the elements, rising above the horizon. Theme camps are abundant, each offering their creativity to passers-by in the form of body painting to grilled cheese sandwiches.
Burning Man is the catalyst for boundary pushing artists & scientists. MIT Press Journal article on Nate Smith & Kiki Petit’s projects. People are beginning to take it seriously as an arts festival, rather than just a bunch of crazy hippies partying in the desert. Dr. Megavolt
On Saturday night the man is burned. All the members of this unusual city convene in the center, watching as the 40 foot structure is ignited. As the flames burn higher and the Man falls, each takes away his own memories and experiences.
One would be wary of truly being oneself, even in such an uninhibited environment, if the threat of exploitation of one's art for any commercial purposes was present. It is for this reason that film and video cameras are forbidden without permission at Burning Man. All video cameras must be registered and tagged. If you are considering filming for professional purposes, you must have a commercial agreement on file with the media team prior to your arrival onsite. Even with an agreement on file, you still must have permission from Burning Man (the Burning Man Organization) to use any images commercially.
This is one reason why AquaBurn is so unique and special. Not only is it a Burning Man sanctioned film, it is also highly entertaining, stunningly beautiful and shockingly hip. It has become the most popular Burning Man film with festival attendees, as well as general public.
Maid Marian, Mistress of Communications for Burning Man, LLC says:
“ Aqua Burn rocks my world ! ”