What a time to be alive. The infamous Fyre Festival of 2017 is the subject of two different documentaries released this month by streaming giants Netflix and Hulu. If you somehow haven’t heard of Fyre or the searing docs, have no fear, yours truly is here to fill you in!
In 2017, an ambitious twenty-something named Billy McFarland teamed up with rapper Ja Rule to put on a huge music festival in the Bahamas. Using the power of social media and celebrity, Fyre was touted as a luxurious getaway where anyone could party with Hollywood’s elite. In reality, the festival planning was fraught with issues from the beginning. Thousands of people ultimately winded up stranded on the island without access to proper food and water. The abysmal failure has since led to conversations about the danger of marketing via social media.
Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (Netflix)
This doc does a great job telling the individual stories of employees who were hurt by Billy as a result of their involvement in Fyre. While many believed in Billy’s talents and intelligence in the beginning, they say they were duped just like festival-goers. Some of them had known and worked with the wunderkind on his previous business ventures. They considered him a friend and the effects of his manipulation ruined not only trust, but livelihoods. There is plenty of filmed footage, audio recordings and even email screenshots that expose the confusion and desperation amongst the core leadership team. The damning interviews given by local Bahamian workers who were stiffed wages, are especially compelling. One woman in particular faced financial ruin after having her own savings wiped out in an attempt to pay vendors. If you had any doubt of Billy’s wrongdoing, her tearful testimony will seal the deal.
Fyre Fraud (Hulu)
We know that alliteration is effective, which makes Hulu‘s doc slightly buzzier sounding and less of a mouthful. In this doc, the filmmakers tackle the festival at a macro level. Interviews are conducted with a couple of former employees as well as industry experts. Surprisingly, Billy himself also appears in person for a sit-down. His interview has to be the least compelling one featured in either doc. He doesn’t come across as particularly remorseful and it’s clear that his only regret is that the venture failed. Filmmakers also had little sympathy for actual festival-goers. They chose to interview influencers (who were also swindled BTW) and portray them as mindless self-absorbed millennials who deserved what happened to them. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to make fun of them and it’s that kind of tone that permeates Fyre Fraud.
I liked Netflix’s doc better, simply for its filmmaking aspects and the approach the directors took. When Fyre was happening, I was in the comfort of my own home watching it all unfold on Twitter and Instagram. This doc made me feel as if I had lived through the experience in some small way, and it reminded me that social media isn’t always real life. Hulu’s take on the event still felt like being on the outside looking in, which isn’t terrible at all, just a weaker approach.
Lastly and maybe most importantly, I believed Billy was a con artist because of the way he did business and the poor way he treated his staff. The first person testimonies in Netflix’s version carry a lot of weight. On the other hand, the Hulu doc makes the decision for you before you’ve heard all of the facts.
I actually watched Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened first, but I heard someone suggest you watch Fyre Fraud first and then tackle the other. At the end of the day, both are successful in conveying the story. I’m sure Fyre will continue to live on in infamy, much like Woodstock and others before it.
Have you watched either of the Fyre documentaries? What are your thoughts on the outcome? Let me know down in the comments below!