Principal Cast : Various
Synopsis: An American entrepreneur sets out to create the world’s coolest music festival, only to discover he’s woefully unprepared for the disaster that’s about unfold.
Anyone even remotely engaged with popular social media platforms such as Instagram or Twitter would be aware of the much maligned 2017 Fyre Festival debacle, a music festival that was so completely botched, so utterly mismanaged and so fragrantly fraudulent, it sent organiser and entrepreneur Billy McFarland to prison and ruined reputations, lives and careers of almost everyone involved. It’s a story of hubris and falsehoods, of fraud and arrogance, a story so unbelievable you’d hardly believe it to be true unless you actually witnessed the hours of footage and online commentary surrounding it. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is an amazing cautionary tale for the millennial generation, a film lifting the scab from the oozing wound of Fyre’s disintegration as an operational online entity, poking the truth from the misinformation and revealing a lot of what went on behind the scenes in one of history’s all-time shambles.
McFarland was the creator and CEO of A-list online music booking platform Fyre, and wanted to promote the new app by hosting a music festival featuring the platform’s listed talent, in the Bahamas, for an exclusive crowd of payees. The trouble is, it’s incredibly difficult logistically to hold a music festival on an island; with a sexy advertising campaign run online, as well as promotion by several well known Instagram personalities and models, the music festival was seen by McFarland and the team of organisers at Fyre to be a successor to Woodstock in many ways, although in truth it was a chaotic, frustrating, expensive debacle. The film recounts the initial seed of the idea, co-sponsored by American rapper Ja Rule, and the dangerously under-prepared team behind what would turn out to be a complete non-event, ruined by a lack of accommodation, no organisation whatsoever, and the near-ruin of a lot of Bahamian livelihoods. Throughout, the warts-and-all retelling by McFarland’s former Fyre associates and assistants, all of whom paint a compelling and awful picture of McFarland’s “there are no problems, only solutions to problems” attitude in trying to understand exactly what happened back in April 2017.
As a Twitter user myself, I heard about Fyre back in the day and, if I’m honest, laughed my ass off at the time at all the problems people were complaining about when they arrived at the island for the festival. McFarland’s glittering website promoting the festival spoke of glorious huts, rooms, houses and apartments to sleep in (none of which were ever provided), a collection of “luxury tents” in which to house the young and beautiful who’d come to party (in reality, they were a clutch of emergency storm-shelter tents that couldn’t hope to stand up to the torrential rain in the Bahamas, and made for awful living conditions), and a star-studded lineup of musical talent, including Blink 182 (who pulled out a few days beforehand), most of whom didn’t show. McFarland, who comes across in the film’s extensive documentary footage (apparently he wanted the entire thing documented, which is great for us but perhaps not so great for him and his lawyers) as a relaxed and enthusiastic leader, has that dodgy “overpromise and underdeliver” mantra that is stupidly indefensible, despite all those around him working in disbelief with the odds and expectations stacked too high to ever achieve.
The film paints a blistering picture of the entire thing – although it does obfuscate the blame on Ja Rule, one of the ringleaders of the whole festival – and the varied talking heads regale us with their own perspectives not just of Fyre’s failure, but their own version of the events leading up to and including that fateful few days. The impending arrival of thousands of party guests, all of whom were expecting an exclusive, isolated island (it wasn’t anything near that) and the absolute terror in the faces of Bahamas workers who were tasked with setting it all up (and failing due to mismanagement and time constraints) builds up a natural tension, exploding with ferocity at the eventual realisation of the promised utopian landscape that never materialised. The variety of social media content, notably video, is replayed here to give a participant’s eye view of people’s actual live-streamed reactions to what they encountered.
Fyre is a compelling documentary that encapsulates the problematic “influencer” culture cultivated over the last decade or so on social media. Unwitting people hoodwinked by a clever marketing campaign, with no oversight as to the eventual outcome, are lured into a false promise and, as you’d expect, the aftermath is particularly brutal for all – all, except McFarland, it seems, who is shown towards the film’s conclusion living in a swanky New York Apartment trying to scam people over email, in an indictment on the US criminal justice system. This is a film that will most definitely make you angry, but it may also make you laugh at the sheer stupidity of the people involved to not put a stop to it all when it was apparent that the festival was never going to work. The human capacity for self-deception and self-preservation is truly remarkable.
© 2019, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.