In this month of Mystic Men, we don’t want to miss Zac Cirivello, who we interviewed for the 2014 Festival Guide…. This interview was also part of the inspiration for our feature on Burning Man Projects. Currently Zac has stepped down from his position as Production Manager at The Bloom Series and is now Media Relations Coordinator for Burning Man.
Zac Cirivello is one of those people who does more for your enjoyment of the festivals than you could ever know. Currently he is a photographer/videographer and project manager for The Bloom Series (films about transformational festivals). He also works in many aspects of production for a wide range of festivals, on both coasts and in Central America. He often arrives a month ahead of you to build stages and infrastructure, and recently stayed two months afterward, to leave no trace. photos by Akira Chan
FF – The Bloom launched its first 3 episodes in 2013 (see insert) It was great to see the progress over the three episodes, they each made a big leap in terms of production.
Zac – Yes, we’ve been learning our craft while the story keeps getting bigger and bigger. Intentionally, the episodes are set up to give you a deeper look, each getting juicer and more complex. The fourth episode will cover some important topics, including some of the challenge points where the culture has room to grow. We’ll release in the spring, and the themes are Re-Inhabiting the Village, Indigenous Right Relationship, and Gender Alchemy.
It radically shook some of the assumptions
that I had made about life.
During the 2014 festival season we’ll follow few different participants in the festival community like the festival regular, a newbie who just got dropped into this, a workshop leader or a musician, a production partner or someone core. We’ll look at the course of a year’s journey and the nature of some of these events.. we would like to have it available for film festivals and a theatrical release.
FF – Will you keep a focus on the vision of what this community is building?
I don’t think we’ll ever lose that, it’s so ingrained into Jeet-Kei’s [JK Leung, the Bloom founder] perspective. Everything the Bloom puts out will be in support of that – moving towards healthier selves, healthier communities, healthier relationships. That’s what people are attracted to – even kids who have been to Coachella or events like that, feel “this is different and I can’t put my finger on it”. The component that we’re trying to do better, either better by ourselves, or better by our community or better by our spirit. We’re not ignoring the obstacles that we need to overcome, but we’re going to do it in a solution oriented way.
FF – I just did an interview with Jonah Haas, (of Lucidity) where he spoke about that focus on solutions. With a lot of the old guard, the focus was on resistance. We’re on a new page now, focused on solutions and building what we want to see.
Yes, this community is great because in the context of sub-cultural movements, it’s much less of “we need to abandon or destroy the system”. We have a concept of “better”, we are highly intelligent, expressive, willing to participate, willing to improve things. One of my inspirations is Buckminster Fuller, who said, “if you want to change something, make it obsolete.” Instead of putting energy into tearing down or destroying or even silencing or resisting, we’re putting our energy into creating new constructs, new paradigms if you will; for relationships with each other and the land and spirituality, the food we eat…
I love Lucidity, its one of my favorite events. You can tell that every decision that they make doesn’t come from “how much money can we make?” It comes from a place of “How can we create the biggest ripple outward from this?”
They’re forming partnerships with other festivals like Envision, which I think is a really exciting front. We have all these events now, and they’re starting to communicate and collaborate. I see them coming together to support each other in incredible ways, ways that are pretty atypical as far as business goes but very substantial in terms of “How do you raise an entire community?”
FF – You are involved in the Bloom and you’re active in a lot of festivals, on the ground doing the work.
It all started when I went to Earthdance, in 2003. I was in high school at the time and my mom bought my brother and I tickets. When I got there, I was completely floored. There was an intangible feeling that what was going on there was powerful, simply by getting people to congregate, adding music and art in a way that was not as destructive as I had seen to that point. I spent the next few years chasing that feeling.
FF – What was it that hit you?
It felt like, “This is what we’re supposed to be doing as human beings, as individuals.” You see old people and young people interacting in a mutually respectful way, to see people from different kinds of cultures hanging out just having a good time. I left Earthdance feeling, “Why can’t we do that all the time?”
Earthdance has a synchronized meditation that connects all of their events. [300 locations around the world] They’re all going on that weekend, with the synchronized dance for peace happening at the exact same time. I was blown away. It was my first hinting that there was something bigger going on, that the experience I was having there, enjoying communing with those people and celebrating as a way of being, that this was happening all over the planet. It was my first real sign of that.
From that arose, “What can I do to have more of this experience?”, which became, “What can I do to help others have more of this experience?”.
I ended up through the course of that summer, going to different events with the Earthdance crew, from Harmony to Reggae on the River, to High Sierra Music Festival, to gypsy festivals….and then I was in. I was absolutely in.
Running concurrently to this, I was deeply involved in a professional food career. I had gone to culinary school and graduated and then done an apprenticeship at a very nice restaurant in Santa Rosa, I took that path very seriously. I moved up to Seattle to work at a restaurant called “Crush” that the year after I worked there, won the James Beard award for ‘Best Restaurant in the Northwest’.
And then I moved into a burner house.
FF – Just coincidentally?
I’d done a fair amount of events by that point. I’d done Earthdance 5 or 6 years in a row, but I’d always heard of Burning Man in the periphery. I was a little scared of it, I didn’t really know what to expect. This was 2007, and I had moved up to work at this restaurant. So it was in part that I wanted to find out more about Burning Man.
When I moved into that house, the owner said. “You are absolutely coming with us to Burning Man.” We arrived a couple of days early to set up, and I was completely floored. I never ended up going back to my job cooking. There is a definitely turn in my path at that point, because like so many people that I know, Burning Man had so completely changed my idea of what I wanted, of what was possible and what people could attain. If Burning Man is nothing else, it’s a huge place of inspiration.
That was a real turning point for me. People were doing so much incredible stuff. It was the first week of my adult life I spent not needing to exchange money, no currency. I remember getting to Reno and staring at these wads of paper and thinking, “Why do we do this?” It radically shook some of the assumptions that I had made about life.
I had experienced a lot of things ….but the open-ness! One of my favorite things to do was just to walk around and interact, because everyone was so playful and engaged. It’s not a place where people say, “No”. It’s a place where you’re encouraged to experiment. Burning Man has the perfect elements of fun and exciting and slightly dangerous; really loving, really supportive, but because of the environment you have to be responsible. You have to be able to take care of yourself. The quality of the people that you have out there, are people that can handle a lot. If I’m ever stuck in the apocalypse, I want to be stuck with burners, hands down.
Seeing amazing, incredible things accomplished in really harsh environments for the sake of the message, for the sake of expression, for the sake of art. Somebody who puts that much time and energy and money into saying something, really has something to say. Its an incredible incubator. In the last 35 years, it’s gone from the equivalent of people rubbing sticks together to make fire to one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world.
What makes it exciting now is that we’ve crossed a cusp where people are taking technology and science, really, really cutting edge stuff, and taking it out there and testing it. Now it’s becoming a showcase! Burning Man was at one point an escape, but now it’s integrating in an interesting way.
FF – What are some examples of breakthrough science and technology?
It’s the first place that I ever experienced seeing DNA sequencing. They took your DNA sequence, then would shoot it up into the sky, in an interpretive way. [There’s an article in Wired, July 26th, http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-07/26/genome-laser-burning-man]
One of my absolute favorites was the brain mapping! The project was based out of Oakland, the Department of Spontaneous Combustion. They built a giant scale model of a brain. It had 3 kinds of lights – LED bars, little twinkling lights and activated flame throwers. It was 40 feet across, and they had somebody in a chair wearing a Neurosky EEG headset that would read their brainwaves and display them in a giant sculpture with light and fire. Somebody would sit and do puzzles in their head and it would display one kind of thing and then you’d sit there and meditate and it would do a different kind of thing. I spent hours watching that.
I think the most impressive feat, though, is putting together the event itself. It requires a tremendous amount of organization and work. Burning Man, in the span of a few weeks, builds the infrastructure to support one of the most incredible cities in human history. It’s Nevada’s 6th largest city, it has an airport with planes taking off and landing every few minutes, multiple radio stations, a DMV, and it’s got the best art in the world. Center Camp itself, one of the crews I’m on, is the world’s largest temporary tensile strength structure and it’s an incredible design. There’s nothing like it.
Burning Man is a vital story to the festival movement, and now their efforts are expanding out of the desert. They’re putting a lot of energy into the regionals, figuring out how to better support them, and visiting non-Burning Man events like Envision, doing research into ways that the community can raise up all together. That’s the exciting work now….
So I’m in Seattle, and I have a room in a burner house. Got back from Burning Man and it took me about a month of hanging out to re-engage in society.
Burning Man had so completely changed
my idea of what I wanted, of what was possible
and what people could attain.
I had a girlfriend, we got a house, and after the summer fests, I went to school for sustainable agriculture & botany. When you reach a certain level in the culinary world, people are not so concerned with where it comes from as being able to buy that really expensive bottle of wine. I was much more concerned with how do you nurture somebody, how do you strengthen that relationship between the plate and the ground?
In addition to festival world, I think food is at the center of a community. I have friends like Stephen Brooks who runs the Punta Mona Collective in Costa Rica, where they have a massive, beautiful permaculture farm. He and his wife Sarah are co-producers of Envision and bring a lot of the food for Envision. When we’re talking about building long term communities based on these ethics at transformational festivals, food is a major component of that. Being sustainable and in right relationship with the land.
I got involved with Envision when my girlfriend and I went to Costa Rica. We wanted to go on a backpacking trip, to see Central America. Somebody said, “There’s a festival down there, it’s called Envision”. This was the first west coast style festival, well, west coast is a narrow term – the neo-tribalism/evolutionary/cultural events movement – it was the first event that they’d had down there. I thought, “I’ve got to get plugged in somehow.”
So I signed up to join their street team, passing out flyers. I ended up flyering for Envision in four states, a couple of thousand miles and a couple of thousand flyers before I left. And then I promoted in Panama, throughout the entire country of Costa Rica, meeting all these people and inviting them to this event.
FF – Four states and all over Central America?
It’s just in my flow. I happened to be going to Chicago, so I brought a bunch of stuff with me. I happened to want to backpack through Central America, so I made that a convenient excuse. I really love Envision, I’ve become involved in their production. I handle their media and press onsite, and I helped produce the program guide last year. This year will be more of the same with some new surprises, I’m sure. And we’ve got a sweet new venue on the beach!
That year, from my first experience at Envision to Burning Man was a long process of healing and finding myself and my place within this community, and it’s when I got involved with the Bloom. I spent a month on site at Symbiosis, in the desert. I went down there as a volunteer, (to Symbiosis) and I helped build two of the stages and there were materials enough left over to build my own space. We called it the Shri Kula Lounge. It was an experiment in undefined communal space. I put so much of myself into this thing. It was a very large pyramid with a central shrine area, it was carpeted. There were very few areas for comfort there, it’s a very harsh environment.
The night before the event opened up a massive windstorm destroyed a quarter to a third of the festival and our space got totally destroyed. I was, for a brief second, completely devastated. Then I said, “We’re going to do this”. And I spent the next 36 hours rebuilding it and didn’t sleep. We got donations from Satya Yuga, and from Bamboo DNA who are good friends. A couple of other stages gave us materials and we rebuilt the space. It was bigger, it was stronger, it was better and it was a beautiful process. And that’s when the rebuilding of my own personal self began.
That space was used as shelter in some pretty rough dust storms. We specifically made it an undefined space. Over the course of four days, I watched people start doing bodywork and yoga in there. People would ask if they could do live painting, or read tarot. It was the first time I’d created something that substantial at an event, and it was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had at an event. I was blown away by people who had so much gratitude because their camp had been destroyed and they just needed a place to hang out. Paradox did a monkey chant in there that was very cool to see. There were a couple of bands that would do jams.
People did a mediation between the producers of Symbiosis and the Paiute Elders, because there had been a lot of frustrations. It’s a sacred site, so the relationship has to be done very carefully, and there’d been some insensitivity and some misunderstandings on both ends. So they held a reconciliation meeting there, which was an honor, and it was a good step. Because of it and other conversations like it, there has become a decolonizing festivals movement, which wants to protect the interests of First Nations people. They’re not a festival watch dog, but they want to not see kids running around in feather headdresses and other issues of culture appropriation. Some great things have come out of that conversation.
In the month prior I had spent time with the Paiute Elders. We’d go and gather willow and build a sweatlodge and I was beginning to understand a deeper relationship with the land, a deeper relationship with communing people. I was starting to see what we were doing at these events as a natural extension of what people had been doing for generations. Community, celebration, song and dance.
You have a positive feedback loop within the festival
community. People are doing cool things through their
inspiration and inspiring more people, who do more cool
things with their inspiration. It’s exponentially growing.
That’s a recipe for an amazing cultural movement.
That’s something that the Bloom is going to talk about in the 4th episode: Indigenous Right Relationship. Cultural appropriation is probably the most hot button topic that is up right now. It’s an interesting one because there are people on all sides. You can’t get one person to speak for “festival community”, just like you can’t get one person to speak for the indigenous community. The tribes are so independent, and the festivals are independent, it’s an ongoing conversation.
Down at Firefly this year, in Arizona, there was a Havasupi Tribe Elder named Uquali who was part of the opening ceremony. He spoke very, very beautifully about the raw nature of coming together and celebrating, communing with each other. I pulled him aside and we did an interview that will be in Episode 4 of the Bloom. It touched me, because I’d been trying to figure out my own opinions on this, having spent time with the Paiutes, with my understanding of where the festival community is coming from, and also where some of their shortcomings are.
He said, “No, this is good.” He wants people who are interested in festivals to come to Ghost Dances and ceremonies. He wants the Indians to come to the festivals, to learn and see where the bridges are. Uquali sees that we are all the same tribe. But if you say, “We’re all indigenous to the earth”, a statement like that makes some people get a really strong reaction. There are people that have put their lives and their energy into this and there’s going to be a conversation that comes out of Episode 4. I put full faith in Jeet-Kei and the editors to put it forward in an intelligent, respectful way.
Bass Coast in B.C. (Canada), in Squamish Valley, is set on a site along a river that for hundreds and hundreds of years was the meeting place of the tribes. We’re doing the same thing, in that same place. For me, it seems impossible to pretend that these are two separate things. That these are things that can’t coexist in some way, that aren’t part of the same drive, the same kind of human existence in community. I’m not saying that the festival community is going to heal the wounds of colonization, but as far as building one of those bridges, it’s an important step.
FF – What I hear you saying is that in the festival community, when something shows up, we get engaged. It’s not like the other culture that just throws people in prison. It’s – “Let’s talk, get to know each other, let’s look at what the issues are, and hear everybody’s perspective”.
Absolutely! Absolutely. I think that we as a movement are trying to work with it, not against it. We’re technologically savvy, we’re intelligent, there are people who are involved in everything from media to politics. These are not people who are dropping out of society, we’re not tuning out. We’re building new models. That’s really exciting because that’s when you have the ability to change the world.
We were at Lucidity. We were doing a Q & A. One woman raised her hand and said, “How do festivals have the ability to change the world?”, and I had the microphone and I just said, “How many of you have had your lives changed by a festival, or festival community?”, and 90% of the people raised their hand. I said, “That’s how we’re changing the world.” The festivals exist to inspire the people and once you’ve altered those people, you can’t help but change the world.
I don’t think a festival is a utopia. I don’t think we could live in festival land, in the way that most festivals are set up right now. But it’s a huge point of inspiration, for people to educate and learn and build bridges. Festivals have the ability to invigorate local communities with radically inspired individuals and that’s how it changes the world.
Symbiosis was the first time I heard people really asking serious questions, taking it out of the realm of self-indulgence or even self improvement. It was “What is this doing for humanity that’s going to left in a couple of years, or for the next generation?”
Jeet-Kei had posted his Kickstarter (for the Bloom Series) and then ran off to film at Symbiosis. I saw him there but we didn’t talk. It wasn’t until I got back and saw the Kickstarter that I sent Jet-Kei a note saying how much I supported what he was doing and a little bit of my experience. I had tickets to go to Sonic Bloom in Colorado, so I sent Jeet-Kei a message and said “Hey, are you going out to Sonic Bloom at all?” It’s an important event, a fusion of the west coast culture and the east coast culture. He said, “I can hook you up with the crew that goes out there.” So I went there on a whim.
FF – You already had film making skills?
As I was growing up my Mom was the Executive Director of a local community media center in Santa Rosa (California). It was a public access television station. It had four channels with a studio, a live suite for call-in shows, and field cameras so that you could run out and film live. I became fully involved in doing public access television. I felt that community media was a tool for empowerment, and became certified in most of the programs that they offer. I became a youth mentor where I would teach other kids, we’d do summer camps and put together film festivals for kids. I got a strong comprehensive understanding of how to produce video media, whether it was live, recorded, editing – this is how you can create a story, this is how you can visually express yourself.
After Sonic Bloom I was headed up to Canada for Shambalah. I was going to write a review because I also write articles for festival reviews and music reviews. And Zipporah (Z. Lomax, Bloom photographer/videographer) said, “We’re going there, lets hook up on the way, we’re doing a couple of events beforehand if you want to come along.” And it’s been non-stop with the Bloom since then.
We went to Faerieworlds and Bass Coast, then we did Shambalah and then I ran off to Burning Man. That was a beautiful, creative time full of possibility. In December (2012) we released our series preview, it got thousands and thousands of views in the first couple of days. The train has been going full speed since then. The possibilities of what we can do now are endless. Jeet Kei is so open and receptive; he’s an incredible person to work with, and incredible person to work for.
Festivals have the ability to invigorate local communities
with radically inspired individuals and that’s how it changes the world.
I think that we as festival culture are embassadors, pioneers. I’m such a Bucky Head…”How can we do the most amount of good with the fewest resources?” That’s something that the festival community takes whole heartedly, whether it’s through structures, like using the geodesic dome, or through building in systems that help shift people’s ideas. It’s the trim tab concept. The idea that a very tiny piece of metal in the back of a submarine steers the direction of a massive ship. One of Bucky’s favorite quotes was, “Call me trim tab.”
I think that’s what we’re doing within the community. If we can activate the community enough, and I think we’re getting there, then that’s what we can do for a large section of the greater culture. It doesn’t have to be through indoctrination into the festival community, it’s more about the permeation of ideas that come from this breeding ground, out and into humanity.
And we’ve done a lot of groundwork with the festivals. In the last couple years I’ve coordinated media on site for Envision Festival and Gratifly in South Carolina, worked on the production end of Raindance, Symbiosis, and spent about 10 weeks of the year out in the Black Rock Desert doing Burning Man. I like to keep a nice mix between doing production of events and doing the Bloom. It’s really valuable to understand both sides of it. And by the nature of the festival community, there’s a lot of cross over. Those that help put together Sonic Bloom help put together Gratifly help put together Envision, there are a lot of people like myself.
I’ve really love the small 1-3000 person events, you get to know people, there’s an intimacy – then there’s the leap to a larger event. But Lightning In A Bottle is a really important event too, much in the way that I think Symbiosis, Shambalah and Burning Man are important gateway events. Those are four large events that are bridging the gap in their own respective field between the mainstream community, whether it’s the music or art community, and this burgeoning movement. I think it’s important to have events like that and I think its important to have events like Awaken where you’ve got a super small, really activated group of people that are moving some BIG ideologies, designing our future… they’re moving big pieces around in ways that are hugely beneficial.
FF – You’ve done a lot for being so young!
I’m a baby, just 26! I feel like I must have been here before because I move through this world in a comfortable way. I am hyper motivated. I graduated culinary school before I graduated high school. I am always trying to get farther in a shorter amount of time than the way that’s its commonly done, whether its cooking or festival production or other things. I’ve always tried to put myself where things happen. I’m attracted to that fringe because the fringe is where you can make some serious things happen.