‘Fyre Fraud’ and ‘Fyre’

February 2, 2019

I admit that in 2017, I followed the slow-moving car crash of the Fyre Festival with far too much interest and perhaps a bit of morbid glee.

As a lover of and attendee to music festivals, I had never once considered attending such an extravagant, pricey festival, but I could at least understand its appeal.
For those unaware, the music festival held in its marketing the promise of sun-drenched Bahamian beaches, frolicking Instagram-famous models, exquisite dining, luxurious accommodations and a lineup of live music.

The slight speed bump? Nothing was booked. But away they went: hordes of hedonistic Millennials hopping on planes to their expected music-fueled utopia. Within minutes after arrival, social media became flooded with images from the ill-planned affair: half-constructed FEMA tents, disheveled campsites, and styrofoam boxes of cheese slices on white bread which became emblematic of the entire affair.

Now we have not one, but two documentaries on the event, streaming on Hulu and Netflix, with both sites even taking shots at one another for their respective approaches. Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” (based on a hashtag designed to reveal the problems during the planning) and Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” should not be seen as competing documentaries, though. Even though they cross over in some details, each one sheds light on the travesty with unique perspectives on its absurdity.

“Fyre Fraud,” written and directed by Julia Willoughby and Jenner Furst, introduces us to Fyre’s maestro, Billy McFarland, a perennially grinning embodiment of smarm who tapped into the vanity of a Millennial demographic that worships at the altar of social media,

Through it, he was able to peddle a fantasy of falsehoods. Only 25 years old when he set out to organize the festival, McFarland was already a flashy entrepreneur, having promoted an “exclusive” credit card targeted at the very same group of pampered young adults. He partnered with rapper/actor Ja Rule to push it to the masses, even though the card really had no intrinsic value or worth ... it just looked cool.

The two began working on a festival plan that obviously, to any rational person outside their orbit, was far too ambitious or was not going to pulled off at all, but at the same time, through the documentaries, it’s easy to see how simple it was to pull the Vicuna wool over the eyes of so many.

Hulu’s doc, “Fyre Fraud” takes us into the command center of where this beautiful lie was carefully crafted and executed, then peddled to the masses by “social media influencers” such as Kendall Jackson and F**kJerry, who gladly shilled the event as long as there was a check coming their way for doing so.

“Fyre Fraud” also boasts a sit-down interview with the mastermind himself, McFarland (presumably right before he was sent off to spend the next six years in federal prison for fraud). He’s cocky, but he’s also your Cheshire cat best buddy whose jet-fueled delivery demonstrates how easy it was for him to talk his way around or out of many a detrimental situation.

He is all hat and no cattle, as they say, able to market illusion, which is perfect for the target audience which sees lives filtered through the social media prism.

And while McFarland does not sit for an exclusive chat in Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” he is by no means absent. The doc instead focuses more on those who were directed to stage the fest under McFarland’s command. This includes the actual film’s producers Jerry Media, who were at the time tasked with crafting the fest’s initial illusion. Directed by Chris Smith (“The Yes Men” and “American Movie”), there is an air of sadness that permeates this version, culminating in the aftermath for the innocent bystanders.

Most importantly, this version included an older Bahamian restaurateur who shelled out thousands of her own money to feed all the island workers left in the lurch by McFarland’s lack of leadership (and payment). Fortunately, there was a GoFundMe campaign for her which far exceeded its goal.

Then there are the attendees themselves. Sure it’s hard to find compassion for those who casually shell out $50,000 to $250,000 for pampered exclusivity, but in Hulu’s doc, you can muster sympathy as they are stuck, clearly far out of their element, and despite being on a tropical island, have no immediate plan to get home.

Then, after watching the Netflix version, you hear from others who resort to truly despicable acts toward fellow attendees in order to retain that “exclusivity” (in particular, one recounts how he and his buddies urinated on and destroyed all nearby tents in order to not have any neighbors).

Both documentaries are fascinating in their own right, and are worthy of viewing, considering their perspectives regarding the tropical debacle. Taken together, there is a fascinating lesson in hubris and the dangers of falling too deeply into the filtered fiction that passes for real.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Email him at