It was one of the hottest dumpster fires of 2017.
If “Fyre Festival” means nothing to you, maybe you had better things to do than roll around in the online schadenfreude of a luxury music festival supposedly infested with models and social media influencers partying in Bahamian villas and endorsed by rapper Ja Rule. To put it lightly, the event did not go as planned.
Those of us not stranded in the Bahamas got to watch a lot of obnoxious influencer types face the cold hard reality of portable toilets and sad cheese sandwiches.
Now, Netflix and Hulu have competing documentaries (Fyre and Fyre Fraud, respectively) chronicling organizer Billy McFarland’s wunderkind scammer skills and just how, exactly, he and his associates managed to separate so many people from their money on the basis of a slick marketing campaign.
But here’s the thing: While the Fyre Festival disaster is fun to watch, maybe you don’t want to watch two documentaries about it. (Or maybe you do. I don’t know you.)
That’s why I watched both, so you don’t have to.
The key difference between the two is how they contextualize McFarland and the doomed Fyre Festival.
Hulu’s version, directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, focuses heavily on framing McFarland, who was 25 at the time, as an entrepreneurial prodigy, the ultimate millennial gone bad.
It also leans on stereotypes about a generation comprised of at least 53 million people in the US, as a bunch of folks who came of age in such tumult (wars, the Great Recession) that they’ve retreated into a reality of their own making — the perfect, filtered realm of the influencers.
Using lots of talking-head interviews with festival players, as well as journalist observers, Fyre Fraud analyzes why it was so amusing to watch a bunch of rich millennials have a really bad day.
With Fyre, directed by Chris Smith, Netflix forgoes many of the outsider observers and gets right into the mechanics of festival planning. Like Fyre Fraud, you get to meet those involved, now lamenting they didn’t do enough to shut it all down.
It’s hard to dredge up much sympathy for them.
Although Fyre Fraud has an interview with McFarland and Fyre doesn’t (Hulu paid to talk to him, Netflix director Smith told Vanity Fair), the get means less than you might think. If you’re looking for insight, remorse or so much as a revealing eyebrow twitch, you’re not going to get it from him.
“So many things had to go right to make this a big failure,” he spins, mostly blank-faced.
Fyre makes up for not featuring McFarland by having plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. In one instance, McFarland tells his team, “We’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser.”
What’s more, Fyre better underscores how the Fyre Festival didn’t just inconvenience a bunch of self-involved youths — it left hundreds of local day laborers without pay. Maryann Rolle, who runs a local restaurant that was working with the festival, says she had to spend $50,000 of her savings to pay workers. And in New York, employees of Fyre (McFarland’s talent booking app that the festival was essentially supposed to be a promotion for) just stopped getting paid.
Neither documentary ends up being the kind of let’s-drink-wine-and-snicker viewing you might be expecting. That’s because what happened was actually quite serious. McFarland got busted on wire fraud and is serving a six-year prison sentence.
That said, if you’re looking for the longest look at the scene that unfolded on Exuma, Netflix’s Fyre should be your pick. This documentary spends the most time showing how attendees who had paid thousands of dollars to get there rolled up on a shanty town of disaster-relief tents in a glorified gravel lot.
In interviews, you hear about people hoarding palettes of toilet paper, stealing soaked mattresses and trampling each other to find their luggage, stuck in a “Lord of the Flies situation with Instagram’s top influencers,” as described by one of the interviewees.
Whether the blame falls all with McFarland, or influencers like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner who posted about the event, or the marketing companies who told them what to post, or those who actually bought into little more than a concept, both documentaries work to show just how fast a scam can snowball with the right amounts of self-delusion.
And of course, both feature the one quote you’re probably most expecting: “It was a shit show.”
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