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Funds Needed for Completion: $ 10,000.00
Estimated Completion Date: 06/30/2009

Funds raised: $ 0.00


The film explores 30 Years of Burning Man History from the underground of San Francisco to the Desert of the Black Rock in Nevada.

Once a year, on a vast Nevada lake bed surrounded by mountains, the Burning Man festival brings together tens of thousands of people who are attracted by the festival’s promise of seven days of “decommodification,” “community,” “artwork,” and “revelry.” But increasingly, many question whether Burning Man’s mainstream appeal threatens— or even upends—the festival’s utopian vision. Through a series of in-depth interviews of the festival’s founders, organizers, and participants, DUST & ILLUSIONS traces the festival’s history, while examining whether the festival is a victim of its own success.


$ 10,000.00

Project's Financial Needs

Full budget of the film: $138,000. $113,000 have already been raised.

We are also trying to raise $15,000 separately from ReelChanges, and we're hoping to raise $10,000 through ReelChanges. This additional $25,000 funding will allow to complete this different phases of the post-production:

• finish editing. ($6,000)
• create the After Effects sequences with professional editor ($2,000)
• full musical original score, since this will be cheaper than already produced music, and will give a full dimension to the film ($3,000)
• do a sound mix ($4,000)
• color calibration ($3,000)
• subtitles ($3,000)
• masters & digibeta tapes ($1000)
• outreach, film festival submission ($1,000)
• marketing, publicity ($2,000)

Other financial Support

The project currently exists, thanks to the support from the CNC (Centre National de la Cinématograhie = National Center For Cinematography), which is the sole french government institution that supports films in France. Receiving a grant from the CNC means passing through several commissions composed of film professionals. (€28,750 ~ $40,000)

IMAGINE & MADNOMAD FILMS have also invested a lot to take the film to the post-production phase, and now we're trying to fund the last steps for the film to come to life. ($73,000)

Current stage of production


Estimated Completion Date



I discovered Burning Man in 2003 and I was struck by the impressive displays of art far away from the cities where most participants were coming from. I was also struck by the constant reminder of how much we were a great community. People often seemed overwhelmed by the generosity and the level of “consciousness” found during the weeklong festival. I could see that these aspects were present, but not as strongly as most people seemed to believe. I started to question the depth to which people were committed to recreating a community.

When I returned to San Francisco where I have lived since 1998, I decided to find out more about Burning Man. I was interested in the need to recreate a sense of community, which a lot of participants shared with me was simply disappearing from the cities they were living in. I quickly realized that Burning Man had grown to 40,000, 50,000 participants, and that in the end it was just recreating a city where people were just as anonymous as they were outside of Burning Man. A fate that many groups have run into throughout our human history.

So I embarked on a 4 year adventure. I met a lot of artists and other groups that have dedicated large amounts of time to Burning Man. The principle of the festival is to have the participants, not the organizers, create the entertainment and the art. The dedication to the festival without any expectation of financial reward was in such contrast with the larger American society so obsessed by money.

Quickly I focused my attention on The Flaming Lotus Girls. People in the group seemed to have developed sincere and profound relationships, while making the most elaborate metal and fire sculptures the festival had ever seen. This combination represented the essence of the festival in my eyes. They teach metal work to new people who join their projects every year for free and work hard to realize a common dream. Through this intensive collaboration, they have created a community of like-minded artists.

I also met some of the key figures in the old and new Burning Man organization. I learnt the history behind the event, which started as a simple bonfire on the beach in San Francisco in 1986, and has become a large mainstream attraction in North America. I discovered the fight over the philosophies between chaos and structure and the reasons why structure imposed itself. People from different side of the story explained to me how the event was transforming into a movement that was going to change the world, or how it was a missed opportunity to invent new ways to create art, which our world is so lacking.

After 4 years it became apparent to me that Burning Man had followed the fate of many previous experiments in community. A few people strongly devoted to a new form of social interaction focus all their energy in making it available to more and more people. In the process some end up taking leading positions from which they believe they can impose their unique philosophies. Their attitude slowly erode the dreams from the early days and turn their community into what it was trying to escape in the first place.

The subject of a counter-cultural movement is as old as humanity, but is even more relevant today in our strongly consumerist societies. As we seem in dear need of a more social society, we also seem unable to pursue that need.


October 2008-March 2009

• Finalize editing. Editing needs a few breathers. Minor modifications.
• Finalize music to replace a few commercial songs, as well as make the already made music fit into the film better.
• Sound mix could happen in March if you help us!! PLEASE  :)
• Closed-caption and subtitles will happen in March-April.
• Final Cut is planned for March-April.

Years 2009-2010

• Film festival submissions around the world
• Contact with TV stations for potential broadcast.

January 2011.


Larry Harvey had moved to San Francisco in 1980 at the age of 35. He had lived a secluded life mostly reading books and was looking for more interaction with others. After a few years in San Francisco, a couple romances, and a new group of friends, he came up with the idea of burning an effigy on the beach during the 1986 summer solstice. At the time he seemed obsessed in creating something important. That obsession pushed him to renew the experiment.

In parallel, John Law and Michael Mikel, who had lived in San Francisco for a while also, were taking part into activities with the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society, both groups dedicated to creating adventures for themselves outside of mainstream society, such as the exploration of abandoned places, infiltration of cults, or street performances.

The groups met in 1988, and the Cacophony Society brought the audience to the effigy burn on the beach at 600 in 1990. That same year law enforcement prevented the burning to happen. Two months later, 80 people took the effigy to the Black Rock Desert. Since that first trip, people have been coming to the desert every Labor Day weekend to watch the effigy burn, and slowly to rediscover themselves away from the city, away from our materialistic world. In the desert with the bare minimum to survive, people started to bring art, and more elaborate camps to entertain each other.

The first 6 years grew almost without any organization. People just showed up and let their imagination go wild in what they could create on the desert floor. By 1993 the population had already grown to 1,000, mud towers, pyramids, fire dragons, techno music, yoga workshops, shooting range were starting to appear in the landscape among the city of tents. But in 1996, with a population of 8,000, Burning Man saw its first death and serious injuries.

Larry Harvey had become the main figure of the event especially because of his spokesperson role, and was claiming leadership, his obsession had not faded, it was just becoming more acute. John Law had started to feel the event was losing some of its originality and he was too involved to enjoy it. Michael Mikel who was between the two men thought the experiment could continue, and still provide the exceptional sense of freedom people were looking for, even with more structure. John Law left after 1996 to explore more underground projects.

In 1997, under the pressure of local authorities, Black Rock City LLC was created to supervise the event permitting, overall safety issues and the sanitary organization. At this point, the organizers pushed the concepts of art and community that are the main principles behind the event today.

The next 10 years would see an exponential increase in population to 50,000 in 2007. The organization would spend a lot of energy to create a respected position for themselves in Northern Nevada, while the participants’ creativity exploded. Burning Man was starting to go above ground, and people from all around the country were making the trip to this unique festival.

In the late 90s, a group of women under the name of the Flaming Lotus Girls started to form to create metal sculptures that integrated fire. In a few years they would quickly become one of the most emblematic collaborative of artists that came out of Burning Man. Not only have they created beautiful works of art, but they have done so with a rotating leadership, and have welcomed dozens of new members every year to teach them their art at no cost. At their scale, the group has been able to create a community with a social system that Burning Man has never managed to put in place because of the conflicts for leadership positions. Other groups of artists have reached those same goals of community while simply focusing on their art, but the Flaming Lotus Girls is the success story of the festival, and are still going strong after 10 years of existence.

In 2004, after a lack of art on the desert floor, a group of artists led by Jim Mason and Chicken John created a petition asking the Burning Man organization to redistribute 10% of their total ticket sales to the artists. They believed that bringing the creation of the art back to everyone, whether artists or not, was the most important achievement of Burning Man, and it was through that creation that community was created… simply making people responsible for their own entertainment and rediscovering human social values in the process. A powerful concept, which the Black Rock City LLC almost rejected, pretending that the Burning Man community was already thriving enough.

The conflict generated by the petition showed how in 20 years the Burning Man project had simply turned into one of the best party North America had to offer, instead of trying to push the art and community experiment as far as possible. Although he is well read, and clearly understands the social problems of our larger society, Larry Harvey clearly shows how he has almost turned into a guru, still obsessed, but this time more by his potential legacy than by leading a communal experiment as a facilitator rather than an all-decisions maker.

In the recent years, a portion of the community is becoming more and more aware of those conflicts of interest, and is starting to wonder if Burning Man is still worth fighting for, and if they should be moving on. But it is always hard to see the larger picture of the experiment in which they are still involved. For this reason, this film can really help bring the community together once again, and hopefully help it re-invent itself to prevent the festival to become just an event selling you an old dream that is long gone.

Production Personnel

Director: Born in France and educated with an engineering degree in microelectronics, Olivier Bonin showed an early interest in photography and film. He studied photography in San Francisco, where he found his way into filmmaking. Starting with short fictions, he quickly found a perfect symbiosis between his interest and knowledge in social movements and filmmaking in the documentary form. With his attendance to the Burning Man festival, he knew he had found a great subject combining film photography in such a beautiful environment, and a complicated human story of community building.

Producer: In 1998 Didier Leclerc joins “Les Films Jack Fébus” a film company, with which he develops films with musical trend ("Canta" in 2005) as well as documentaries about social issues and films of discovery (" Tankers en plein ciel " - in 2003 / " Le syndrome des Indes " - in 2004 " Sur les traces de l’Aéropostale " 2005). In 2006 he moves to IMAGINE, which goal is to develop and produce documentaries of various forms (" Nathalie Baye en toute liberté " - in 2007 / " Tigers en plein ciel " - in 2008 / " 2017, enquête sur le grand krach français " - in 2008).

Editor: After studying modern literature in a French university, Arthur Guibert went on to study documentary filmmaking, with a strong emphasis on editing and writing. Later he met Jean-Pierre Krief, director and producer, and worked on documentaries dealing with social and political matters such as Saddam Hussein: Histoire d'un procès annoncé , and documentaries about art and photography such as the Contacts series. In 2008 he met Olivier Bonin with whom he shared a critical but constructive view of our contemporary time, which led to their collaboration on Dust & illusions.

What Your Donation Enables:

A box of Digital Video Tapes
One Day of Sound Editing
Color Correction
One Day of Editing
5 DVDs

Donors to this project