Nothing makes someone of my generation feel more out of touch than being presented with a topic that “everyone was talking about.” And we’ve never heard of it. Such is the case with the Fyre Music Festival debacle, about which I was clueless, until two documentaries were released this month.
All things considered, I felt quite old watching both Fyre Fraud (Hulu original), and Fyre (Netflix original). While both films outline the same events, they are quite different in tone. To be frank, both were kind of shady in their own way, too. So, let’s take a look at how they differ, how they’re similar, and (if you’re as clueless as me), what the Fyre Music Festival was.
The Fyre Music Festival Promise
In a nutshell, Fyre was pitched as a luxury music festival, created by “entrepreneur” Billy McFarland, and rapper Ja Rule. It was to take place in the Bahamas over two weekends in late April, and early May, 2017. Fyre promised the chance to watch top music acts perform, and party with supermodels, and social media “influencers.” Speaking of influencers, Kendall Jenner was paid a reported $250,000 for one Instagram post mentioning the festival. One. Post. That one post blew up, though, and created a massive amount of interest in the festival.
Social media campaigns were utilized to create a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) among starry-eyed young adults, many of whom couldn’t afford to attend. They did, anyway. Those who weren’t rich maxed out several credit cards, squandered their savings, sold critical belongings, and so forth. Attendees paid between $1000, and upwards of $400,000 each, for tickets and accommodations (this doesn’t even factor in flights). All of that, just to be a part of such opulence.
Below, is the original promotional video created for the Fyre Festival. It was pitched as a once-in-a-lifetime event, unlike anything before it. Well, that was partly correct.
As both documentaries explain, what ticket holders actually faced when they arrived at the Bahamian island of Great Exuma (not the island pitched in the video), was one disappointment after another. Some laughed when they arrived, others broke down sobbing, some were stunned into silence. Visitors faced horrible conditions: lost luggage, cancelled concerts, repurposed hurricane tents, little to no bathroom access, and pathetic food. The festival organizers’ desire to be talked about all over social media soon backfired. Badly.
As both Fyre, and Fyre Fraud show us, the world was soon abuzz about what a disaster (and fraud) the entire production turned out to be. The attendees posted videos and photos of their nightmarish surroundings to their Instagram, and Twitter feeds. Then, the organizers, and even those scammed, became laughing-stocks. They were ridiculed with hashtags, memes, and jokes during late night talk show monologues. It was the easiest of targets for mockery: rich young people scamming rich young people. Or, in some cases, those willing to fork over their life savings to appear rich.
Let’s talk about Billy McFarland, the… umm… “brains” behind this entire mess. This guy has — to use the young people’s vernacular — a punchable face. He’s the type of person who lies about lying, while formulating another lie. He will pick your pocket, then leave you believing you somehow owed him the money. He’s a con artist. A self-centered tool. Basically, he’s the Scott Peterson of fake music festival organizers. There really isn’t anything presented in either of these films that redeems him in any way. Although, the Hulu version tries, by pointing out how smart his mom says he is. No, really.
While the entire story of the ill-fated festival is one giant, “what the…?,” there are genuinely striking moments in each documentary. For instance, the fact that McFarland ran more scams while out on bail for previous ones. He was even more devious at that time, of course, in an attempt to avoid detection. This aspect of the story was only fully explored in Hulu’s Fyre Fraud.
The most shocking moment in Netflix’s Fyre, is a story told by Andy King, an event production planner. King states that McFarland contacted him, claiming Bahamian customs wouldn’t release four 18-wheeler trucks full of bottled water, unless he paid $175,000. McFarland then told King he needed to “take one for the team,” and perform a sexual favor for the customs official. King states that he’d resigned himself to do it, but thankfully resolved the issue with a conversation. However, the fact that McFarland would demand such a thing speaks volumes about his character.
The Impact on Local Bahamians
In Netflix‘s Fyre (sometimes stylized as Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened), more focus is placed on the damage done to locals. The residents of Great Exuma (and surrounding areas) are arguably the biggest victims in this entire situation. The most heartbreaking interview was with Maryann Rolle, who runs the Elvis Rolle restaurant on the island.
Rolle recounts in Fyre, that her staff toiled for exceptionally long hours to serve upwards of 1,000 meals a day for the “festival” workers. Rolle, as was the case for most people involved, was not paid for this work. She ended up spending her life savings ($50,000) to make sure her staff was paid. Her heartbreak is palpable.
In a bit of good news, since the documentary premiered last week, a GoFundMe account set up for Rolle has raised over $100,000.
The Filmmakers Are Perhaps a Little Shady, Too
Netflix’s Fyre was produced by JerryMedia (aka, “F***Jerry”), who were part of the Fyre Festival team. Yes, you read that correctly. Netflix’s Fyre documentary was created by people named in Fyre-related lawsuits. Hmm. Hulu’s documentary actually calls out the Jerry Media team for this, at one point. There’s an article over here that basically explains why their involvement is suspect. Oh, the drama.
Then again, Hulu’s Fyre Fraud paid Billy McFarland to appear and be interviewed. Which is also a little iffy. Basically, he said, “I’ll only appear in this documentary about how greedy and entitled I am, if you pay me a lot of money.” Hulu said, “okay.”
Now, the filmmakers are battling it out in the press, over which team/documentary is shadier. My guess is this is exactly the outcome McFarland desired. People focusing on the wrongdoing, or sketchy practices, of anyone other than him. Did I mention he is manipulative?
Oh, and where is Ja Rule in all of this? He’s basically sitting on Twitter, throwing as many people under the bus as possible, to distance himself. Other times, he wants all the credit as the visionary of the festival, and an app related to it. Keep it classy, Ja.
The Final Verdict
Which of these documentaries would I recommend? The short answer is: both.
Each movie explores necessary parts to the story, but each leave something important out. To grasp the whole picture, you need the information contained in Fyre Fraud, and Fyre. The humor, and faster pace, of Fyre Fraud is a bit more entertaining. However, the more serious tone of Fyre is also warranted for much of the content. Either one would receive a Grade: B from me. Perhaps, if the filmmakers hadn’t been at such odds with each other, they could have delivered one solid “A,” documentary.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on the Fyre Festival documentaries? Comment down below!
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