1 Hr., 37 Mins.
Fyre / Fyre Fraud
hen the inaugural Fyre Festival was first announced at the end of 2016, it seemed too good to be true. Organized by the rapper Ja Rule and the entrepreneurial whiz kid Billy McFarland, the musical event was supposedly the pinnacle of luxury — a sui-generis neo-Coachella. It was noteworthy, as an early, much-talked-about promotional video declared, for taking place on a secluded Bahamian island that
once belonged to the drug lord Pablo Escobar, and for being a fantasia where wild pigs, Blink-182, and nubile supermodels could coexist peacefully. Marked by unfathomably steep ticket prices and a litany of VIP options, it was irresistible for those who could afford it. Imagine bragging about attending. Imagine the Instagram likes.
As of the time I’m writing this — Jan. 18 — attendees can still only imagine the extravaganza that might have been. When ticket-buyers were finally dropped off at Rokers Point, a Bahamian development that certainly did not once belong to Pablo Escobar, on April 27, 2017, it was evident that they had been scammed. The ornate beachside bungalows many had purchased were, in reality, wobbly disaster-relief tents. The food, advertised so handsomely that to call it food and not “cuisine” seemed an insult, was slapped together and served in a to-go box. All the acts booked — G.O.O.D. Music, Major Lazer, Disclosure, and others — either canceled or were turned away at the last minute.
Luggage was thrown haphazardly off a delivery truck, with attendees scrambling to find their black suitcase. Plumbing was shitty. The supermodels who advertised Fyre? At home. The hogs? On a different island. By nightfall, the situation at Rokers Point dwindled into a scenario hyperbolically compared to the ones found in Lord of the Flies (1954) and The Hunger Games (2008) by the media. Onlookers laughed at the spectacle that is watching rich people in turmoil. After much media coverage, McFarland was finally sentenced to six years in prison in October.
Recently, Hulu and Netflix put out documentaries chronicling the blight that was the Fyre Festival. This is a case of the rarified twin film, to be certain. Hulu’s take, Fyre Fraud, became available to account-holders on Jan. 14. Netflix’s rendition, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, was released four days later. Because most are wanting to relive the gleeful schadenfreude that came with watching the disaster unfold online almost two years ago, both have inevitably become objects of interest. For many, the question remains: Which is the better of the two movies?
Surprisingly, the lenses through which each feature looks at the event mostly contrast. Fyre Fraud predominantly investigates the festival’s cultural implications via journalistic opinion. Through talking-head interviews and miraculously large and professionally shot amounts of archival footage, Fyre moves about in the way a narratively driven feature might. (Aside from the subject, the characteristic both movies have in common is their moral murkiness: Fyre Fraud paid [a lot] for an interview with McFarland, which is a massive ethical failure; Fyre was produced by, and features interviews with employees of, Jerry Media, the company that was also responsible for the Fyre Festival’s advertising way back when.)
Both films provide secondarily and primarily collected information that was new and compelling to my ears. As a passive outsider much more familiar with the Twitter jokes about Fyre than I was with its pre-and post-crises, I was riveted by the memories shared by co-workers whose misguided trust in McFarland ended up being catastrophic, as well as the scrutinization of the festival’s chaotic planning and promotion. “I’m stressed,” I occasionally whispered to the family members with whom I watched Fyre. But, if I’m being honest, I prefer the Netflix film. It’s measured and dramatically urgent, and I like the way it makes an effort to emphasize the repercussions the failed festival had on locals who were convinced to participate in the event’s manufacturing.
By contrast, Fyre Fraud is uncomfortably glib and borderline sensationalistic. I additionally couldn’t stand the patly busy visuals. The directors, Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, have a tendency to cut to a classic cartoon, ad, or footage of a culturally ingrained historical moment to supplement a certain line. An interviewee cannot just say McFarland is a con artist — they must say so in voiceover while an animated black-and-white wolf ambles in a sheep costume, for instance. Anyone enamored of the crash and burn of the subject in question will likely find something to relish in either. But Fyre, which comes across like a cinematized longform piece published in a premier magazine, is the one you should be checking out first.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened: B+
Fyre Fraud: C
January 25, 2019
Julia Willoughby Nason
1 Hr., 36 Mins.