It is perhaps only fitting that two documentaries about the disastrous Fyre Festival, one of the most high-profile fraudulent failures in history, would arrive during the same week — a fitting cap on a tragicomedy of errors that, as both films outline in excruciating detail, unfolded like a slow-motion plane crash in the spring of 2017. Far from the luxury accommodations and celebrity-chef-prepared meals promised by its chief producers — entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule — and the multiple “influencers” who were paid to promote it, concertgoers were met with flimsy tents, boxed lunches, near-total disorganization, a cancelled concert and long waits for flights to return to the mainland.
A compare/contrast between the two documentaries — “Fyre Fraud,” which was surprise-released on Hulu earlier this week, and Netflix’s “Fyre,” which arrived today — has been more than capably handled by Variety’s Daniel D’Addario in his review of both docs. While nearly every minute of each documentary contains something astonishing — and widely known — there are far more jaw-dropping moments in the two documentaries than one review could summarize. Thus, below, we examine the most astonishing, entertaining and/or horrifying moments in “Fyre Fraud” and “Fyre.”
Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” does a compelling job of moving the story forward, inexorably toward disaster, via compelling talking heads — The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino, Billboard touring reporter Dave Brooks, attorney Ben Meisalas and former Fyre employees, and McFarland himself, who was reportedly paid $100,000 for the interview. Yet the greatest of many strengths may be the way in which it shows how the festival became a perfect storm of millennial issues: influencers, social-media posturing, promises of luxe living, suspicious money schemes and, of course, music. Its high points include:
- Nearly every moment of the McFarland interview is remarkable in one way or another, but in a harbinger of what was to come, he describes — with obvious pride — his scam from second grade, when he figured out how to hack into his school’s website, change the password and lock out the teachers so that he could use it to promote his dodgy “crayon-repair” business.
- Fyre’s most highly valued influencers, in this case Alyssa Lynch, actually did receive luxury accomodations, unlike nearly all of the more rank-and-file attendees. Lynch claimed to “feel really bad” for them, but she was clearly trying not to laugh when she said it.
- The talking heads are not spared the interviewer’s ruthless questioning. At one point Lynch and another influencer provide unintended comedy when, after saying that their goals as influencers were to spread the ideals that they stand for, the interviewer asks what it is they stand for. Both essentially say, “Um… positivity, and… um… yeah.” Similarly, Brooks compellingly describes the days leading up to the festival and knowing that a disaster was coming: “So I set up a mini-war room….” (the interviewer presumably then asks him to describe it), “Okay the war room was in my house and it was just me, but I had my computer open and was watching Twitter …”
- The nervousness, and perhaps fear, on McFarland’s face when he absolves Ja Rule of any responsibility for the event’s failure. “It’s on me,” he insists, despite the vast video footage in which both he and Rule describe him as a “partner.” Rule distanced himself from the event as soon as things publicly went wrong, and has continued to do so.
- Much of “Fyre Fraud” is astonishing. Yet the most powerful takeaway is McFarland’s seeming inability to not lie, and his seemingly complete unawareness that what he did was wrong. It is unlike, say, President Trump’s lying, which at least seems based in self-preservation or twisting the truth with an objective; to McFarland, wrongdoing, no matter what words are coming out of his mouth, seems genuinely not to penetrate his consciousness, which may make him a genuine sociopath.
Netflix’s “Fyre” does not include a McFarland interview, but there is plenty of footage of him, as well as interviews with former employees and others. Highlights include:
- In a sobering demonstration of influencer power, Kendall Jenner received $250,000 for one Instagram post about the festival. Within 48 hours, Fyre had sold 95% of the allotted 6,000 tickets.
- One of Fyre’s pilots and chief technicians learned how to fly using Microsoft Flight Stimulator.
- It turns out that Fyre’s original claim that it would be held on an island formerly owned by murderous drug lord Pablo Escobar may not have been as completely untrue as was later claimed. The original location planned for the event, Norman’s Cay, was purportedly once owned by Escobar — however, when the owners warned McFarland not to publicize that claim and then he did so in an Instagram post, the deal was immediately rescinded.
- Event producer Andy King says McFarland asked him to perform oral sex on the island’s customs chief in lieu of the $175,000 required to release four 18-wheel trucks filled with Evian water bottles. King said he was ready to “take one for the team” when the official recanted, allowing the trucks to proceed based on the guarantee that he would be the first to be paid from festival receipts.
- And in a heartbreaking example of McFarland’s possible sociopathy mentioned above, he convinced one employee to put $150,000 of Fyre expenses on his American Express card — and stiffed a Bahamian woman who served as an on-site organizer and paid her staff $50,000 out of her own pocket, her entire life savings.