16 Awesome Festival Documentaries to Watch Tonight

Article by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley

Thu May 12, 2016 | 00:00 AM

Warm up by watching a few of the world’s best documentaries on various festivals from EDM events like Electric Daisy Carnival to religious pilgrimages like Kumbh Mela to crazy traditions like the Running of the Bulls at the Fiesta de San Fermin . From cultural to music festivals, get ready to feel like you're in the front row.

"Monterey Pop" (1968)

This list doesn’t include great concert films like “The Last Waltz,” “Gimme Shelter” or “Stop Making Sense” as what I was yearning for was that collective effervescence that one feels at a multi-day festival. Given that most of the northern hemisphere festival season is a few months away, these docs could be a great reminder of why you’re a festival fanatic.

“Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music” (1970)

Primarily due to D.A. Pennebaker’s skillful filmmaking (he also made the Bob Dylan film “Don’t Look Back”), this has been called the best concert documentary capturing the 60s. I loved seeing a very young Art Garfunkel, a very drunk Janis Joplin, a very jovial Mama Cass, and a very sassy Jimi Hendrix. With a little editing by Martin Scorsese, this received an Academy Award for the Best Documentary Feature and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and the Library of Congress as a national cinematic treasure. The turbulent times are visceral in this film and there’s some damn great music.

“Carnival in Rio” (1983)

Unlike the first two films, this one-hour travel video won’t win any cinematic awards but it’s a hilarious account of the steroid monster who used to be Governor of California teaching Brazilian women how to suck and bite a carrot at Rio’s Carnival. Well, it’s more than that: It’s really an Arnold-goes-to-Carnival sort of tour video – like those old Bob Hope films, but cheesier. You definitely get your share of the ass-shaking flavor of Carnival, but the reason to watch this is to prove that even a serious schmuck can become the top exec of one of the world’s largest economies. Given Arnold’s deep pockets, I’m surprised he didn’t figure out a way stop the folks at Found Footage Fest from making this video public in the 21st century.

“Festival Express” (2003)

That Arnold video is a find and so is this. There was a rumor for years that footage existed of a train trip featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band, Buddy Guy and a few other musicians who did a summer Canadian festival tour in 1970. Then, more than thirty years later, this astonishing film popped-up with candid, psychedelic conversations about cosmic consciousness amidst the landscape of Canadian cornfields, along with all kinds of phenomenal festival footage.

“Shortcut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela” (2004)

If you’re a culturally curious soul like me, someday you may make the trek to the world’s largest festival, Kumbh Mela, which occurs every 3 years on the Ganges River in India. This award-winning, colorful film by co-directors Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day depicts the larger Maha Kumbh Mela that happens every 12 years which, when I visited the Maha in 2013, welcomed 100 million people to the festival. Catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama in this inspiring film that will help you understand the devotional nature of Hindu pilgrims.

“Coachella” (2006)

If you’re looking for cinematic style and storyline, I’d more heartily recommend “Monterey Pop,” “Festival Express,” or “Glastonbury,” but if you want a flavor of what Rolling Stone has called “the best American music festival,” this straightforward film will give you the sounds of Bjork, Radiohead, Oasis, Chemical Brothers and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“Glastonbury” (2006)

Director Julien Temple’s first film was “Sex Pistols Number 1” and he’s directed a series of music-oriented films since, including “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” and “Absolute Beginners.” This documentary gives a history of the granddaddy of music festivals from 1970 to 2005 and includes performances by David Bowie, Coldplay, Blur and Morrissey. It illuminates why Glasto is so legendary. Skip Temple’s 2012 follow-up film to this. “Glastopia” which is not as good.

“Running with Bulls” (2012)

“If you’re not scared, there’s something wrong and you shouldn’t be here.” Those are the powerful final words at the end of this film's trailer. This feature-length doc will assure you won’t have to go to the doc to nurse a huge gouge in your leg sustained in northern Spain – you can just sit back and watch the gore on the screen. I did Fiesta de San Fermin the year after this film came out and I do have to say they’ve captured the blood, adrenaline, history, partying and controversy of this famous festival. If you’ve ever had the urge to flirt with death in Pamplona, watch this film first.

“Spark: A Burning Man Story” (2014)

A great festival doc leaves you feeling a lot of FOMO – which is exactly what Spark does. For those of you who’ve never made the dusty journey to the Nevada desert for this immersive, sensual art and cultural event, you’ll feel the agony and ecstasy of what’s made Burning Man legendary through the heart-and-soul confessionals from a few featured Burners. I have a small bit role in the film in regards to the plug and play theme camp, Maslowtopia, which I created with friends in 2010.

“Under the Electric Sky” (2014)

This IMAX 3D adventure is more of a promotional video for Electric Daisy Carnival but it’s truly the best insider’s documentary ever made for an aspiring festival producer. It helps you understand how Insomniac created a legendary EDM festival with 300,000 souls from around the world on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Put in your earplugs as this film turns up the volume both audibly and visually. By the end of the film, you’ll realize why successful festival producers make the big bucks they do.

"This Was Tomorrow" (2015)

Belgium's Tomorrowland is no stranger to superior production and story-telling, strengths very perceptible in their documentary-styled aftermovies. This Was Tomorrow, a film highlighting its 10th anniversary, features candid stories about attendees and artists, the common thread the community shares, and what the festival means to them. If you've ever found yourself in awe over their aftermovies or are currently reminiscing about your own Tomorrowland adventures, watch this movie right now on Netflix.

"What’s in My Baggie?" (2014) 

Harm reduction efforts continue to grow in the festival world. What’s in My Baggie? follows The Bunk Police as he travels to music festivals to test attendees’ drugs and educate them in harm reduction and what people are actually putting into their bodies. This full-length documentary, which includes interviews from harm reduction organizations such as DanceSafe, can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.

"The Hajj Documentary" (2015)

If Islam is not your religion, it’s very likely that you will never experience Hajj, the great annual pilgrimage where millions of Muslims journey to Mecca. That shouldn’t prevent you from learning about the largest human pilgrimage on Earth. The Hajj Documentary gives you an inside look at the annual pilgrimage from diverse points of view – those of journalists and pilgrims alike – and presents a wealth of information that will entice you to discover more.

"Mathura: A Tale of Colourful Holi" (2016)

Mathura: A Tale of Colourful Holi is an intoxicating documentary that utilizes vivid imagery and close-up filming to narrate the story of Radha and Krishna, and illuminates the tradition of celebrating the festival of color. We follow hostess Dolly Chawla as she explores the cultural practices during the forty-day Holi festival in India. The events captured on film make it feel like you’re there with her, only without the paint, unfortunately.

"Chinese New Year: The Biggest Celebration on Earth" (2016)

Earlier this year, BBC released a three-part docu-series called Chinese New Year: The Biggest Celebration on Earth in celebration of China, its culture, and its festivities. Viewers join three hosts as they experience the chilly Harbin Ice Sculpture Festival in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, giving us a peek at how the ice cities are created. If you’re curious about Chinese New Year traditions or how fireworks are made, this is the show to watch. Full episodes can be viewed on YouTube, and high-quality episodes can be purchased here.

"The Bloom" (2013)

The Bloom Series is a four-part documentary that explores the alchemy of themes present in transformational festival culture: creativity, love, self-awareness, human consciousness, music, art, and education. Through stories and interviews filmed at the transformational festivals such as Lucidity and Sonic Bloom, the documentary highlights this progressive emerging culture and how it creates the effervescence that experience when we attend such conscious gatherings. For full episodes, click here.