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Fyre Festival Documentaries | Surreal Stories of a Spiraling Event and its Unhinged Creator

by Speed Raver

Plus relatable takeaways to apply to your own festing experiences

The ridiculous desperation of the Fyre Festival debacle is back on our minds, Facebook feeds, and watch lists following the recent release of two scintillating documentaries. In their own ways, Hulu and Netflix deconstruct how the luxuriously marketed Bahamas fest turned into a flaming shitstorm that set the internet ablaze. Both films prove as riveting as a trainwreck, from the insanity of the finances to the lack of basic amenities and disorganized, dire straits attendees found themselves in upon arrival. Whatever your worst festival experience, it doesn’t hold a candle to the chaos on display here.

Hulu’s Fyre Fraud bills itself as a true-crime comedy, exposing entrepreneurial con-man and Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland’s fraudulent schemes and frantic attempts to keep the event alive as it headed towards inevitable, disastrous failure. The tone bounces between darkly humorous, incisively insightful, and shockingly unsettling. It also holds a critical mirror up to society’s social media obsessions and addictions, and the powerful reach of Instagram influencers – many of whom seem to lack any real substance in their “brands.”

Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened tells the story from a wider array of involved perspectives. There’s less focus on McFarland’s evolution as a schemer and more detail in how/where everything falls apart. It creates a lot more sympathy for those victimized by McFarland’s festival venture, from the unpaid Bahamian day-laborers setting up the site to the Fyre employees trying their best to coordinate a logistical nightmare.

Most compellingly, Netflix’s documentary exhibits far more footage and testimony of the fiasco devolving into a Lord of the Flies madhouse amongst attendees trapped in a festival hell. Another highlight is a hilarious vignette from an experienced event manager brought on to help steer the sinking Fyre ship, whom McFarland tasked with blowing a customs agent in order to release the imported supply of bottled water for the fest.

Fyre Fraud boasts more entertainment value and interviews McFarland directly. Watching him squirm when confronted with his fraud and lies and struggling to spin things differently satisfies some of the bewilderment of how someone could do something so abhorrent. It also paints a more disconcerting picture of how Jerry Media, the company in charge of the festival’s ad campaign, allowed McFarland’s fantasy to continue and lured more people into his treachery with their slick marketing.

Each documentary takes a different narrative approach and are worthwhile for their own distinct reasons. They complement one another while also providing viewers a fascinating understanding of how Fyre Festival went awry and the lasting consequences of it. As a professional of the fest world, here’s what really struck me and can relate to your own fest experiences:

  • Billy McFarland is like a big-league version of a ticket scammer and drug dealer, knowingly selling dangerous, fentanyl-laced drugs, just to increase his profit margin with no concern for his customers’ safety or repercussions of his actions. When buying tickets off Facebook, check if the seller’s profile seems legit and insist on paying through PayPal goods and services (which refunds from scams). And always use a test kit to check your drugs!
  • The main promo video for Fyre Festival made huge waves when it debuted because of its visual disruption technique. Models, athletes, and many other influencers simultaneously posted a bright orange tile on Instagram that tagged the festival and would lead to the video when clicked. This post stood out from everything else in followers’ feeds, causing people to stop and take notice of the oddity. What a stroke of marketing genius! If you want to get the attention of a person endlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, a bold visual choice to disrupt the standard flow of imagery can do it.
  • Fyre Festival was doomed from the start, first and foremost because McFarland was determined to make it happen with only six months of planning and preparation, when it would normally have required a minimum of a year. Music festivals are enormous undertakings with countless moving parts and things to consider. Some small festivals could be pulled off in half a year, but Fyre was incredibly ambitious and set to take place on an island with minimal infrastructure. Everything had to be imported to the Bahamas and it all grew exponentially more difficult. If you’ve ever wondered why certain elements of a festival you’ve been to were such a mess, these documentaries show just how easily things can go wrong or be overlooked.
  • Music festivals already create spaces outside the boundaries and behaviors of standard society, so when a big storm upends the limited structure of a festival, be prepared for some craziness to ensue. Fyre shifted into an alarming free-for-all for many reasons (including torrential rains hours before opening), but in my experience the storms that shut down a fest for a while and turn the grounds muddy can seriously change the mood and dynamic. Band together and take care of your friends in such situations, and try to stay civil when things get out of hand.

*Featured Image Via Hulu.com*

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