“The Temple”, the Spiritual Heart of the Burning Man Festival

Laurent Le Gall, the French director of the series L’Amérique dans tous ses états broadcast on TV5 Monde, has returned to his favorite subject, the American festival Burning Man. The director has already made a number of films about this annual gathering, including Sensation: A Trip to Burning Man (2002), Voyage in Utopia (2007), From Sin City to Black Rock (2011), and La ville qui n’existait pas (2013). In his latest eight-episode documentary, The Temple, coproduced with France Télévisions and available on YouTube, the Frenchman takes a closer look at the festival’s spiritual side.

In late August every year, tens of thousands of artists, musicians, free thinkers and gentle dreamers make the trip to a sun-scorched, wind-blown patch of desert some 125 miles north of Reno, in Nevada. The randomly assembled community nicknamed “Black Rock City” spends a week gathered around a large wooden structure known as “The Temple.” The edifice is then set on fire on the last Sunday of the festival, a symbol announcing the end of Burning Man.

The San Francisco-born architect and artist David Best, 71, has designed a number of the annual temples since 2000, built from scratch in Petaluma, California, by some 100 volunteers, before being transported by truck to the festival. One of the helpers is none other than Laurent Le Gall, who has spent the last 20 years living between Brittany in France, and California. “From David Best’s first sketch to the day the Temple is burned, the project is filled with emotions and stories I wanted to share,” says the director, who spent four months following the construction of the 2016 Temple.

Inspired by one of his travels, David Best’s offering for the 2016 festival — set to be his last — depicted a Nepalese temple. The structure boasted wide cornice molding, multi-tiered roofing and seven floors, and was 15 meters wide and 30 meters high. Once assembled, and as with every year, the ephemeral edifice became the spiritual heart of Black Rock City, a place for festivalgoers to come and gather. Many leave souvenirs, photos, letters and personal items in memory of deceased loved ones, and pray in silence before the Temple as it is engulfed by the flames.

“I wanted to make the film to show the human adventure behind this colossal structure,” says Laurent Le Gall. “The tears, the laughter, the random changes of plan, the sandstorm we had to clean up, and also the reaction of the Burners [the festivalgoers] when they discover the finished Temple.”

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