Released: 18th January
Seen: 21st January
In April of 2017, the music festival to end all music festivals was scheduled to happen in the Bahamas. Organised by rapper Ja Rule and “Entrepreneur” Billy McFarland. The festival was a social media phenomenon from the second it was announced. Instagram Influencers and models were promoting it, tickets sold from anywhere between $500 to $12000, it was meant to have huge names like Blink 182 and Little Yachty and go for several days. It was meant to be the greatest music event that has ever been put together… and then the event happened and the only thing great about it was that it was such a great failure that it will go down in history as one of the worst events to ever be put together. It would end with thousands of people not getting money that was owed to them, personal property damage caused by the weather and one of the organisers going to prison for 6 years. Naturally, this was the kind of story that was going to be turned into a documentary, or two. I sadly can only talk about the Netflix one because Hulu doesn’t offer their product to Australians so I can’t compare these two documentaries, although if I’m ever able to do that I will do it later on. For now, let’s talk about the Netflix Documentary.
Fyre is a documentary that explores the events leading up to the infamous festival. Point by point, the film details several stories by people who got scammed by Billy McFarland, from festival goers to people on his team to local Bahamians who worked to build the actual festival. It was nothing short of a scam, not only a scam against thousands of paying customers but a scam against the people who worked for him. It was absolutely nuts, just the basic description of the things that we knew about at the time is enough to call this head-on-fire-crazy but the things revealed in this documentary? Oh my god, there are moments of this that will make you laugh in pure shock when you realise how far some people were willing to go to put together a festival.
So the most interesting thing that I found about this documentary was that it was produced by Jerry Media, a name that actually appears in the movie because it’s the name of the company that was actually working with the Fyre Festival to promote the thing. Now, even though I haven’t watched the Hulu Fyre Festival documentary I am aware that they also brought this up… it’s never mentioned in this film. At no point do they say “Look, the guys making this movie are also the guys who promoted the festival”, they never acknowledge this obvious source of bias. In fact, looking at the opening credits, there isn’t even the phrase “From Jerry Media” in there to give people the hint that there’s something going on. Now, this is not saying that they held back or that this movie tries to make anyone look good or even that the company did anything other than provide some footage and people to interview. However, it’s an important piece of information that should’ve been front and centre from the start of this film so that people could go in knowing what’s going on. As it is, the first time I could find any mention of Jerry Media being a part of this film is at the very end of the end credits. It’s something that they should’ve brought up at least once beforehand in the actual text of the film, not just assumed people sat through the credits. People don’t even sit through the credits of Marvel movies, you think they’re going to keep the window open on their browser long enough so they can see what you’re doing? Hell, they’d have to actively try and not be shunted over to watch Trigger Warning with Killer Mike before the credits ended, it’s just not a good look.
The film isn’t just an exploration of what happened at the Fyre Festival, but a discussion about the power of social media influencers. Several moments of the film lingers on how this entire festival was basically deemed viable due to the role of influencers posting an orange tile on their Instagram accounts. It talks about how some of those influencers were even sued about this because they never marked it as advertisements and the obscene amount that some of them got paid. It’s a really fascinating story that’s well told by an insanely talented director who has also done great work on ‘The Yes Men’. What we get is an hour and a half speed run through the worst music festival ever… OK, the worst festival that didn’t end with a stabbing.
My only real complaint (besides the disclosure issue – seriously guys, be better) is that there’s more than enough material here that this could’ve been a series instead of a movie. Just the back-story on the previous company that Billy McFarland owned alone could probably be half an hour. As it is we’re jumping around at lightning pace, major events are being talked about and it almost feels like we’re rushing towards the stories about the day of the festival. The part of the movie that’s actually the day the people turned up to the festival and saw everything is about 15 minutes and it feels like that in itself could be so much more, it feels like there are missing details that would be fascinating to witness. What I also find interesting is that no one interviewed Billy (He’s interviewed in the Hulu one) or Ja Rule, the two men who organised everything and are the faces of this company and neither of them speak up about it? OK, Ja Rule certainly is speaking up on it on Twitter and promises to tell his truth real soon, even though several people in the documentary explain that they told him what was going on and he is heard suggesting ideas on how to spin this and… Yeah, that’s going to be fascinating when that comes out.
Fyre is a genuinely fascinating look at a monumental disaster that will be retold and used as a source of never-ending schadenfreude for many years to come. The twists and turns this took, the way everything exploded and the number of moments that are borderline unbelievable are fascinating to watch. Even though it goes by way too fast and the curious choice to not tell the audience that the people IN the documentary are also the ones MAKING the documentary does bring it down a bit for me, but not by much. It’s still a great well-produced documentary that would’ve closed the book on this saga, but something tells me that we have not heard the last about the Fyre festival or the men who put it together.