ARTS AND LIVING

Dueling Documentaries Introduce the Man Behind Fyre Fest


By Isabella Weiner ’20, Contributing Writer | Feb. 6, 2019 | 148-12

One of two documentaries about Fyre Festival that were released within one week, Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened“ explores its controversial CEO.

On Jan. 18, Netflix released its documentary “Fyre Fest: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” to immediate fanfare. Just a few days before, Hulu, in a surprise move that was undoubtedly meant to rattle the streaming titan, dropped its own documentary, “Fyre Fraud,” about the disastrous music festival. The inaugural festival, branded as “Fyre Fest,” promised concert-goers a “luxury,” once-in-a-lifetime experience on a remote island (“once owned by Pablo Escobar”) in the Bahamas, an event that would be attended by such models and Instagram “influencers” as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. But instead of luxury cabanas and yacht parties, attendees were greeted with FEMA refugee tents, scarce food (with one image of a sad-looking sandwich of American cheese slapped onto white bread going viral) and decidedly no supermodels. The event proved easy fodder for internet mockery, as users found it hilarious that rich concert-goers — many of them millennials — were duped.


In the days since their release, the directors of the dueling documentaries have both levelled accusations of questionable ethics against each other. Netflix has claimed that Hulu paid $250,000 for an interview with Billy McFarland, CEO and co-founder of Fyre Media, Inc., the company behind Fyre Fest — and who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for defrauding investors. The implicit argument is that McFarland, who swindled millions from investors and left hundreds of Bahamians unpaid for their work on the festival, should not be allowed to profit from the festival.


Hulu, meanwhile, argues that Netflix should not have allowed employees of the highly popular Instagram account FuckJerry, which was responsible for the promotion of Fyre Fest, to serve as producers of the doc and thus promote the message that they too were swindled rather than complicit members in the elaborate scheme. Personally, I believe the claim levelled by Netflix has more merit. And while the Netflix doc does not have the draw of an interview with McFarland, it has extensive footage of him as he parties (at one point falling asleep on the beach from a day of extensive drinking), tells his employees they’re “selling a pipe dream to your average loser” and scrambles to put together the festival. As it became sickeningly obvious in the days leading up to the festival that it could not feasibly happen, employees featured in the film recounted how McFarland would tell them that they were a “solutions-based” company. The show would go on.


Watching the Netflix documentary, McFarland strikes me as socially awkward, uncharismatic and constantly speaking in vague, entrepreneur-bro jargon. Yet, he was able to win and maintain the extreme loyalty of his employees, continuing to acquire millions from investors — some of whom are featured in the film — who viewed McFarland as a visionary entrepreneur despite his previously failed venture, a credit-card club called Magnises. We later learn in the film that McFarland was grossly inflating Fyre Media’s market value to investors, perhaps partially explaining why he was able to pull off such a feat. The documentary asks the question: what drew all of these talented people to McFarland? To stand by him?


Nowhere is a more damning example of his remorselessness than in his duplicity towards the Bahamian natives, who remain unpaid for their work. One Bahamian, a restaurant owner named Mary Ann Rolle, tearfully admits to the cameras that she lost $50,000 feeding concert-goers during the Fest. (A GoFundMe has since been founded in her name.) McFarland’s festival hurt real people, and while the Internet had a field day reveling in the hilarity of the downfall of the festival, the Netflix documentary ultimately does not forget to show us that it was never really funny at all.