A MAYAN WARRIOR
INTERVIEW WITH PABLO LEVINAS
My first burn was in 2014 and I've been returning every year since.
I am a documentary filmmaker and photographer. I began taking pictures when I was around 12-years-old and I haven’t stopped since, (around the time I met you, Leila in the 4th grade). Photography eventually led to filmmaking and a fascination with documentaries. I joined MTV straight out of university, touring with different bands around the world. Because I grew up bi-lingual with a multi-cultural background and had an eye for provocative subject matter, I gained access to the private lives of artists, which forever changed the trajectory of my career. Not long after that, I won the Discovery Network’s International Up and Coming Documentary Filmmaker Competition. This led me to direct and produce twenty-six, half-hour travel episodes for the Discovery Channel en Espanol on cultural festivals around the world. Shortly after I was invited to accompany Alexandra Cousteau, the granddaughter of legendary oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, and her international Expedition Blue Planet team to travel around the world to investigate and document global water issues. Since then, I have dedicated my time filming issues/causes I am passionate about. This passion has taken me to live with indigenous tribes deep in the Amazon to uncovering human trafficking in the underbelly of Indonesia, and today, my joy for the art of filmmaking has never been stronger. A couple of years ago I began to pursue documenting one of my greatest passions – animal conservation. I have filmed conservation efforts of the rhino, elephants and lions and plan to make South Africa my home soon to capture the beauty of that continent and the efforts of conservationists to protect these magnificent creatures.
Pablo tell us about your Burning Man experience and how each year they differ from the other?
My first burn was very spontaneous and super last minute. A friend called and told me he had an extra ticket and I could ride out and stay in his RV with three other people. I only went for three days and two nights, what people call ‘weekend burners,’ and since I had never been, I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I should have been. A huge part of BM is pre-planning, everything from water, food and where you will sleep. Everything worked out in the end and it was an incredible experience nonetheless and was more than enough to get me back out there the following year.
Since my first burn, each one has gotten more incredible. The second year I went out with my dear friends at the Mayan Warrior Camp to film and document. This was a very different experience since I was trying to capture the magic and had a task at hand.
It wasn’t until the third year that I think I could finally say I finally fully experienced BM. I went without any responsibilities and was there to simply go with the flow and do whatever I wanted to, when I wanted to; it was truly amazing. I spent hours on my bike riding around, getting lost, looking at the amazing art and meeting new people. It was liberating and on top of that, I didn’t have this constant feeling of having to be somewhere or of missing something that I had felt before. There is so much going on all the time that you feel like you should be doing something, being somewhere, and in reality, you can be doing nothing, be nowhere in particular, and its ok; it’s actually exactly what you should be doing.
This past Burn was also very special - it was my third year back at the Mayan Warrior Camp which is an honor. Our camp and art car represent our culture and roots and the friendships I have made there truly make the experience on the playa the most meaningful.
Greatest inspirations or influences?
- My parents have always been avid travelers and collectors of contemporary art. So my siblings and I started traveling the world at a very young age and being exposed to different cultures, religions and foods and art and that opened my heart and mind and made me more eager to learn more. My greatest inspiration is Mother Earth in all her glory, the animals that share this planet with us, as well as all Her people from all walks of life.
- I'm passionate about the humanity that we all share. Growing up, my house was filled with art books and Nat Geo magazines dating back to when I was born, so before the internet, I was deeply engrossed in those books and magazines.
- As for more traditional inspirations I would have to say Picasso and Dali, they always made my mind wonder. Of course David Attenborough and lately I am fascinated with the work of JR.
What are some of the most interesting things that have happened to you at BM?
Just at this last Burn I was at the Tree of Tenere (one of my favorite pieces this year), taking portraits of people. I ended up talking to one of my subjects who asked me about my work as a documentary film director and looked surprised when I told her about my recent work on human trafficking. It so happens that she too had just finished making a VR film about a woman being sold off by her pimp in a hotel in NY”. I told her that was exactly what the show I worked on for MSNBC was about - finding girls on a website called Backspace and going undercover to find out if they were being trafficked, and if so, rescuing them from the vulnerable situation they were in and getting them to a safe place to begin the rehabilitation process. This show never aired because our government shut us down for exposing how much human trafficking goes on right under our noses in very chic spots right in New York. What an incredible coincidence that a girl at BM I just met by chance had seen this never released footage I had shot which had inspired her to make her film. That’s just one of many crazy and incredible stories of connections and serendipitous events that happen on the playa.
How do you describe in your own words what is Burning Man?
Burning Man can’t be described or transmitted in video, photo, or words - it really is something that you have to experience yourself, in person with dust from head to toe to understand it.
What is @facesofburningman?
Faces of Burning Man is a compilation of my photographs taken over the course of the years. I have my own Instagram @pablolevinas but wanted a platform to dedicate solely to Burners of Black Rock City- a way to give back to the people who allow me to photograph them. I print small little cards with individual pictures and try my best to give them a hard copy the following year.
Anything else you would like to share?
If you want to experience something you've never experienced before in all your travels– put BM on the top of your list.