Camp Beaverton, part of the Burning Man arts festival, is a queer, all-women, trans-inclusive camp where participants, self-described “Beavers”, are free to explore sex in a safe and positive environment.

Each year, The Beavers come together and create an experimental community camp that offers a number of hugely popular events including the infamous Strap-on-a-thon, the largest play party for women on the planet.

The filmmakers of this award-winning, fun and intimate doco invite you to “Meet the Beavers”, and it’s a trip you won’t soon forget!

About the film

Every fall, a city of 50,000 arises in Nevada’s isolated Black Rock Desert as Burning Man gets underway: eight days of a revolutionary social experiment in art, community, and self-expression.

Ana Grillo and Beth Nelsen travel to the Festival on a quest to delve deep into a subset of this radical population, the Beavers of Camp Beaverton — lesbian, bisexual, trans, genderqueer and beyond, who come together to commune and play.

The film sees Grillo and Nelsen explore what attracts women to Camp Beaverton in the first place: an open, supportive, and ever-growing sisterhood that just happens to be one of the biggest sexual playpens in the world.

Director Anna Grillo is an independent filmmaker and award-winning photographer who began her career specialising in documentary photography.

Director Beth Nelsen is an award-winning filmmaker who has worked in film production since 1995 and discovered her love of documentary while undertaking an internship with Lee Grant’s company, Feury Grant Entertainment, in New York City in 2001.

We chat to Beth about the documentary:

Tell us about your film

Our film is about the only all-women’s, trans-inclusive, sex-positive camp at Burning Man, in a nutshell.

Ana is a longtime Burner and former Beaver and so she told me about the Beavers, basically by telling me about her time spent as the “Mister Fister” a few years ago, where she misted the teacher giving a fisting workshop.

She can expand on this better, I’m sure, but basically, she first tried to sell me on the sexuality of the camp and proposed that we attempt to shoot the Beavers in their natural habitat at Burning Man, an 8-day arts festival that happens in the Nevada desert, attracting over 50,000 people every year.

I was dubious as all I knew about Burning Man was that it was a bit of a rave scene; I’m not a fan of drugs and really didn’t think it was for me, so I politely turned her down.

Again, she called me saying, “I have an extra ticket to Burning Man and everyone wants it, but I think you should come.” I turned her down again, and again she asked, and I finally caved in, and off we went. We had media passes and were scheduled for early arrival and so we spent 16 days in the dirtiest, driest, hottest desert I’ve ever inhabited.

We brought out 3 cameras and I ended up putting my good one away, only using it for one shoot because it was obvious that the environment would destroy it quickly.

It was not easy, but ultimately, it turned out to be a wonderful experience and I am convinced Burning Man is possibly the greatest art show on the planet.

As for the Beavers, I spent a great deal of time at their camp getting to know them- BUT-  there is a back story: Ana had been working for BM in the past, making 5-minute videos to highlight the spirit of volunteerism, also known as the Love Project; she had done this alone the year prior and told them that it was way too much work for one person.

In 2012, the year we went, they gave her 2 tickets and this is how I came onto the scene, first spending a great deal of time at Center Camp as they prepped for the arrival of the masses, then getting to know the Beavers as they trickled into the desert. She named me Agent Nelsen and I named her Ana Mission, and off we went as Agents of Love to attempt to capture both Center Camp and the Beavers.

Privacy was a big issue at first at Camp Beaverton, as some of the people are not even out in the real world. Camp Beaverton is also fairly popular as they are the hosts of the infamous Strap-on-a-thon, so they attract Burners from all over the Playa (Spanish for Beach, but slang for the home of BM- the great vast desert).

The bulk of our best interviews happened in the last few days of the festival as we quickly earned their trust and elicited their desire to share their experiences. 8 days is a short time to meet someone, earn their trust, and film them, but we did it.

I took the footage home on September 5th and lived with my parents for the next 9 months as there was no way I could work a full-time job to pay full-time rent, so I whittled away in my bedroom, first transcribing about 200 pages of talking heads, then slowly weaving together the structure, and finally emerging in April to take it to our Agent Headquarters, also known as Ana’s house in San Francisco, about 45 minutes from where I was living at the time.

We found a post sound person and a colourist, and slowly we gave birth to the film.  It was important to us both have our World Premiere at Frameline in June. Ana has served as their festival photographer for years and Frameline is where we met in 2011, where I was representing the Aussie film by Elka Kerkhofs, THE CONFESSION OF FATHER JOHN THOMAS.

What made you want to make it?

In watching, re-watching, and typing the words coming out of every person’s mouth, it was obvious that these are very powerful queer people who need to have their stories told and preserved.

Years from now, I hope, it is so old fashioned, that even our Beavers, who are rather advanced, will seem old fashioned but still a fascinating sociological study. I think we take our lives in the Bay Area of California for granted; we live in a gay utopia of sorts, but times are changing.

Now it’s uncool to identify as Lesbian. You’re supposed to say, Queer. Ana and I both, however, have been out long enough, coming out during times where it was a powerful word of great meaning and pride.

But in going back to the Beavers, I really believe they are an example of what is to come. If I had to look into the future and come up with some sort of prognosis, I would say that this system, which we are taught is the only system that works well, where two people must find one another and devote their lives solely to each other, will become extinct.

Don’t get me wrong, I think monogamy and conventional sex work great for some people, but the fact that we are taught this is the only way will eventually be archaic, and obviously so. I could go on about this, but I feel I am getting off track.

I think the Beavers are proof that there are other ways of living that are perhaps not so conventional by today’s standards and that a harmonious world is built by people who feel totally free to be and express themselves.

Sexual empowerment is a foundation for world peace. I really believe this, and in large part, thanks to the Beavers. When I look back and think about how dubious I was when Ana first invited me to Meet the Beavers, I shake my head at myself. I am glad I went.