Fyre Festival might have been a monumental failure, but Netflix’s new documentary, Fyre, is definitely not
There are two types of people on the internet. There are those who had heard of Fyre Festival before it tore through social media leaving a blazing trail of unhappy hashtags, videos of water-soaked disaster relief tents and unhappy photos of cheese sandwiches, and those who hadn’t. For the vast majority of those online, Fyre Festival only ever existed as a hilarious entity whose failure was ridiculed and memeified for weeks afterwards. In the aftermath, information was released and eventually – particularly with the arrest and imprisonment of festival organiser Billy McFarland – some understanding of why the event failed filtered through into the general internet consciousness. Two years later, however, the full story has finally emerged in the form of Netflix’s new documentary – Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened.
Director Chris Smith (Jim and Andy, American Movie) expertly navigates every inch of the catastrophe which was Fyre Festival. The Netflix original film covers everything from the festivals initial conception, to the alluring and now infamous promotional videos starring the likes of Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, to how the festival was sold as the laypersons chance to live a luxury lifestyle or (as McFarland himself puts it, ‘selling a pipe-dream to your average loser’). Fyre seemingly has unlimited access to the teams who worked hard to create possibly the most monumental failure in terms of event organisation and PR in recent history. Just when you thought you knew everything about Fyre Festival, you really haven’t.
McFarland is the unsympathetic villain of the piece – a young entrepreneur type who wants to ‘live like a rockstar’ but seemingly doesn’t possess the motivation, skills or (perhaps most importantly) the integrity to do so. Smith paints a particularly nasty image of McFarland (his employees describe him as ‘delusional’, ‘narcissist’ and a ‘liar’ amongst other names), but Fyre doesn’t colour the situation black and white. Though it doesn’t do the work of an investigative documentary, Fyre looks at many factors into how exactly the festival became such a monumental screw-up. Sure, McFarland and his ideologies are a huge factor, but Smith also points his camera at those who enabled McFarland, the influencers who drew in the public and the social media driven world which we now live in.
The only group who get off rather lightly are the marketing team behind the Fyre campaign (Fuckjerry) which is likely to be because Smith’s documentary is full to the brim with their marketing and campaign footage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the documentary looks and feels as slick as the Fyre promo videos (Smith and his team utilise every piece of footage available to them) – and this actually works in their favour. It may not be impartial (are documentaries ever?), but without this unfettered access to interviewees and footage (much of which is damning) Fyre would not be nearly as compelling as it is.
Fyre doesn’t just focus on the festival itself – McFarland’s previous companies/scams are put through the ringer and the documentary exposes a pretty clear trend. There are interviews with McFarland’s previous work associates, those around him in his inner circle and those who were quickly shown the door if and when they dared to criticise him. Including McFarland’s other ventures helps to contextualises Fyre Festival as a disaster which is just part of a much larger web of lies and fraud. McFarland might be the centre of the storm but on the periphery of Fyre there is also a much larger conversation around corporate responsibility, the role of influencers and the concept of due diligence in the world of Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.
Though the villains are quickly established, Fyre has quite a tricky time trying to realise it’s victims of the story. It’s assumed that the natural victims would be those who attended the festival, yet Smith doesn’t really attempt to paint them in a sympathetic light and even if he did, it would be a very difficult sell. There’s a spattering of sympathy to begin with, but once the young attendees begin to talk about the amount of money they could throw away on tickets (“to see Blink 182 in 2017″) and how easily they can sue McFarland with their family lawyer, any real notion of victim-hood is quickly dismissed.
What emerges is a part of the Fyre story that was very much ignored at the time – the local workers from Great Exuma who (to this day, it seems) have not been paid for the manual labour carried out for the festival. The culture of the Bahamas is touched upon during the documentary and the exploitation of workers is something which Fyre brings to the forefront. A particularly poignant interview with one of the restaurant owners reveals the personal sufferings Fyre Festival brought to the people of Great Exuma – not least the $50,000 of personal savings stumped up to cater food for the party goers. If anything, Fyre might have benefited more from investigating the stories of the Bahamian workers more.
Fyre couldn’t be scripted. The true story is far more engaging than any fictional reconstruction could ever be. Add this to expertly paced editing, charismatic interviewees and footage of the entire catastrophe from beginning to end – Smith’s documentary has everything it needs to be a winner. It’s accomplished, slick and utterly watchable – it’s a must-see film.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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