The Fyre Festival can be remembered two ways. It was either the culmination of a series of escalating frauds, or it was the funniest thing to happen online during the 2017 calendar year.
Now there’s two documentaries dissecting it: “Fyre Fraud,” which is streaming on Hulu, and “Fyre” on Netflix.
One, however, is clearly better.
A quick recap for those who had better things to do in April of 2017 than to be online 24/7: Fyre Festival was a planned music festival in The Bahamas, the brainchild of one Billy McFarland, entrepreneur. The event was billed as the new Coachella, the new Burning Man. Ja Rule was involved. It was also going to feature musical acts ranging from Blink-182 to Lil Yachty, private villas, even an island of swimming pigs.
It was an absolute disaster. Zero performers showed up, the “villas” were tents left over from the FEMA response to Hurricane Matthew, the food was borderline inedible and the pigs bit.
But what turned it from just a terribly planned event into a leading news story was the clientele — influencers.
People who live to post to social media simply will not stop posting, leading to hours of uploaded footage showing rich, beautiful, wasted millennials collectively losing their minds while they try to figure out what happened to their Louis Vuitton luggage. It’s incredible.
The Hulu documentary seems less concerned with the festival itself than with the exploits of McFarland, a 27-year-old serial businessman who now is serving a six-year prison term for wire fraud. He was reportedly paid up to $250,000 to appear in the film (coincidentally the same amount he paid Kendall Jenner for a single post about his festival).
The movie’s take on the fiasco was summed up early on by Ben Meiselas, a partner at the law firm suing the Fyre Festival for $100 million who said: “It would perplexing and funny if it wasn’t criminal, and it is criminal. But it’s still perplexing — and a little bit funny.”
Much of the film is just filler, a series of interviews with people saying things like, “Lol it was a mess,” as clips from cartoons and sitcoms play in the background. But a few storylines really stood out. Perhaps the most interesting part of “Fyre Festival” discusses the festival’s promotion, which was handled by Jerry Media, the marketing firm that evolved from a certain Instagram meme account whose name contains an unprintable word.
It showed how the Fyre Festival tapped into the core desires of millennials who grew up amid school shootings, natural disasters and terrorist attacks; who are constantly online looking at the idealistic lives of celebrities; who just want to be a part of an “experience.” So the team at Jerry Media created one for them, and it turned an event nobody had heard of to one people would pay six figures to attend.
Another standout topic was a company called Magnisis. Although it wasn’t McFarland’s first venture, it was probably the one most connected to the eventual Fyre Festival.
It was a perks club at its core, a card targeted to millennials that promised penthouse parties and exclusive access to sold-out events. Instead it was a house of cards, where “exclusive” tickets were bought hours before the show on Ticketmaster and paid for by the next batch of orders.
Exclusive access didn’t exist and promises were made that could not be kept. It failed. But that failure illustrated to McFarland just how easily he could con young people into paying him for a facade, and it would eventually bloom into the beautiful butterfly of Fyre Festival.
Netflix’s film offered much more buildup than its counterpart and looked good at first. Interviewees were gushing about the initial video drop, the models, the sheer number of social media hits. In this world, people loved Magnisis. Everything seemed ready to go.
Then it all came crashing down.
After the scenes from the failure of a festival, of which much was identical to footage used in “Fyre Fraud,” interviews from employees began. Nobody got what they were promised.
From there, the story pivoted into McFarland’s legal troubles, about how he constantly lied about his success, how he doctored documents to get investors, how he was living in a penthouse running another scam while out on bail. It’s honestly some very depressing content.
The differences between the two films, on a surface level, are slight. The real contrast comes from the framing.
“Fyre Fraud” shows a system where everyone kind of knew it was a disaster, and more than a bit shady, from the start. Social media managers were in scramble mode, construction workers were given unrealistic deadlines.
But in “Fyre,” viewers get the impression it really could have been pulled off had it not been for poor leadership and lack of actual funding from McFarland. Though people he hired did good work, he gave them an impossible task. Not their fault, of course, as they had no idea anything was wrong until the last minute.
Another interesting tidbit about “Fyre” — it was produced, in part, by the CEO of Jerry Media. Just a cherry on top of an already towering parfait of schemes to separate millennials from their money.
But don’t worry: Parfaits look great on Instagram.
“Fyre Festival”: 3.5 sickly, wilted cheese sammies out of 5
“Fyre”: 2 obvious bits of damage control out of 10