Fyre: A must-see documentary about a very modern mess
Ivan Radford | On 18, Jan 2019
Director: Chris Smith
Cast: Seth Crossno, Brett Kincaid, Andy King, Billy McFarland
Watch Fyre online in the UK: Netflix UK
Schadenfreude took on a whole new meaning in 2017, when the much-hyped Fyre Festival opened its doors to hordes of fans – only for them to find a mess far from the paradise they were promised. At best, a colossal, disorganised failure, and at worst, fraud, the resulting omnishambles caught the public eye – and (rightly) the eyes of the federal court too. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, a documentary from Netflix, dissects the disorder with skilful, hugely entertaining precision.
To the outside world, the story of a bunch of youngsters able to pay up to $250,000 for a ticket to a luxury event in the Bahamas not getting the supermodel-filled bonanza they were promised was mostly one for ridicule – the footage of drunken, confused millennials being greeted by FEMA tents (“luxury villas”) immediately spawned memes across the web. It’s that world of live-streaming, social feedback and influencer endorsements that both helped make and destroy Fyre festival. Smith, who previously gave us Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, sharply raises questions about the digital-first culture of our age, but does so without ever losing a ruthless focus on the catastrophe at hand.
That began as the brain child of Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, who brought a host of influencers and models together to create a glamorous promotional video for an event they hadn’t yet prepared. Smith walks us step by step through the assembly of this unattainable dream – Blink 182! Booze! A private island formerly owned by Pablo Escobar! – and its descent into beyond-satire nightmare, getting input from all kinds of people behind the scenes, from sound engineers to caterers. We see the bizarre reality juxtaposed with the constructed, glossy perception time and time and again, from shots of the cheese-and-bread-in-a-box lunches guests were given to McFarland’s team racing, months before, to make sure all their Insta-celebs posted photos of the festival’s marketing stunt by a 5pm deadline – as one person wryly notes, the event happened twice, once for real on that photo shoot and then the sham remake for the public.
There’s humour in the stark contrast between the over-produced advertising and the under-served customers, but it soon gives way to shock and anger; Fyre builds each emotion up like a Jenga tower, editing together interviews and extremely well sourced social media posts, while waiting for the whole lot to come tumbling down. The result is a gripping portrait of a thoroughly modern mess that leaves us with the prison sentence of McFarland and the tragedy of the Bahamians who were roped into working hard to pull off a doomed event, shaming them and their businesses in the process.
Jerry Media, the company that promoted the festival, is part of this movie’s producing team – something that Hulu’s rival Fyre Fraud documentary, also released in the US this week, points out – but Smith shows no sign of shying away from the culpability of those behind the festival, their lies, their lack of due diligence, and their not paying of employees, as well as acknowledge how people were susceptible to buy into it in the first place. Underneath it all is the ironic fact that there’s no part of the artifice that we can’t see through in hindsight; people were recording videos of everything on their phones the whole time.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.