“So what is your plan?” she asks. “My plan?” he wonders. “You look like someone who has a plan”, she says. Silence comes invade their bubble for a few seconds. “One. Find the medic centre”, he first states. “Two. Get batteries. Three…” he continues and pauses before saying: “I don’t have a three”. “I like number three”, she answers, smiling.
They are two strangers, who have just met at Burning Man, the art and culture festival taking place every year on Labour Day Weekend and gathering more than 65 thousand dreamers and doers, who are turning the Nevada desert into an ephemeral city featuring the world’s largest display of art, also known as Black Rock City. Deep Playa Sunrise is their story. It tells the story of a chance encounter, of a kind gesture, of a fortune cookie filled with some of the most heartfelt, relevant, and life-changing words of John Lennon. It is the story of a small little something that is going to change everything.
Deep Playa Sunrise, written and directed by Josh Yeo, and produced by Starving Heartist Films & Sights and Sounds Media House is a narrative short film shot at Burning Man 2015. The film follows the journey of a first time burner who, having recently been stripped of his hearing, goes on an unexpected adventure for hearing aid batteries, and during which an unlikely friend will teach him that what we’re looking for and need is not always what we think.
They met. By chance. Or fate. He was looking for batteries. She was here. She wasn’t the help he thought he’d get. But she was better. She changed his life, and probably even saved him – through the simplest act of gifting this stranger a fortune cookie. Deep Playa Sunrise is an artwork, an artefact, a reminder of exactly this: life has a somehow twisted way of bringing you the things you need most when you least expect it, without warning, without consent – just because… maybe it knows best.
“I remember the feeling of being gifted my first thing at Burning Man”, director Josh Yeo says. “A camp mate that I had only met 10 seconds before came up to me and handed me a beautiful copper cup, with my name on it and an emblem of the Man. I remember not having anything to give back to her and that awkward feeling of being unprepared. And just like that, she gave me a hug and looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you for being here”.
Gifting is one of the 10 principles of the festival. “We wanted to make a film that was true to Burning Man”, Josh explains. And he actually not only sees Deep Playa Sunrise as a Burning Man film, but also and mostly as a Burning Man experience. “From a filmmaker’s point of view, I now don’t consider this film a Burning Man Film. Going into it I was aiming for a “Burning Man Film”, but now looking at it in completion, I can say that this film holds its own ground and could happen anywhere”, he says. “In all honesty, the real heartbeat of the film wasn’t clear to me till the final stages of editing, when watching the connection of the two strangers grow and the intimacy that they have even though they never kiss”, he adds.
They met. By chance. Or fate. While he was at Burning Man, because his sister gave him a ticket, spending his time looking for new batteries, she was there for “this moment right here”, for the beautiful randomness of the universe bringing some of the most life-changing people into her existence, and she was trying to tell him that he might be missing out on the moment and what is right in front of him – something he’ll only realise at the end of the short, when he discovers the quote inside the cookie.
“I found the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” to accurately sum up every Burning Man experience I’ve ever had,” Josh explains. “Just this year at the Burn, I was retaught that lesson a few times, and had to keep reminding myself to let go”, he says. “There is something really magical that happens when you let it all go and let the Burn take you in—I think that’s true in life as well.”
They met. By chance. Or fate. They met. And it felt like a firework. Just as when people gather under a dark and dreary night sky, waiting for the colourful sparks of a firework to illuminate their pale and morose faces. It felt like light coming in.
And this distinction is felt throughout the film. There is a contrast between a quite practical character and a more spiritual one. There is a contrast in Dillon Schroer’s visuals, which vary between colourful scenes and those shot in the dusty desert – the starry sky of the beginning of the film, the golden hour shots, the pastel colours of the day, the spinning timelapse, and the neon lights thus contrast with the empty and monotonous sandy landscape. There is a contrast in the music – a dreamlike soundtrack, punctuated with some electro vibes – thanks to which the festival atmosphere truly, emotionally and beautifully comes out. All of these bring out the contrast between past and present, the contrast between life and death, and the contrast between solitude and company.
“When we launched into pre-production for Deep Playa Sunrise, one of the things that I wanted to tackle was the lack of contrast in a majority of the Burning Man films (mostly documentaries) that I had previously seen. I had not found one piece in particular that had nailed down the visual aesthetic of Burning Man”, the director explains. “Burning Man as we all know is much more surreal and saturated than a normal mineral bed desert. There is a quality to it that has magic, that dances on the line of reality and fantasy.”