“Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” is a 2019 Netflix documentary that documents the 2017 Fyre Festival debacle, directed by Chris Smith, which in my opinion, presents a much stronger narrative than Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud,” which explored the same subject matter, but through a different lens and with its own exclusive interviews. Here’s my full review of that film.
In a nutshell, Fyre Festival was supposed to be a luxury music festival in the Bahamas that had no hope of seeing fruition, mostly because of the delusion of former Fyre Media CEO Billy MacFarland and his unrealistic expectations. MacFarland initially got famous for selling a metal credit/debit card with exclusive perks, but soon got into business with rapper Ja Rule, who I haven’t heard of since his defeat to Eminem in the early 2000s, and the two started developing a talent booking app called Fyre, which honestly wasn’t a terrible idea in of itself. The Fyre Festival was put on as a way to promote the Fyre app, and the festival itself initially got great promotion from Jerry Media, who hired social media influencers — mostly models — to fly to the Bahamas and party, while a crew filmed promotional shots for Instagram.
It’s important to note that this film was produced in part by Jerry Media, and as such, it’s much less critical of the company than “Fyre Fraud” is, which contains interviews from a former Jerry employee who worked on the Fyre Festival’s social media campaign. Jerry Media itself has a dubious past, specifically with stealing the content of other creators and making money off of it on Instagram, so in a way, it’s important to be aware that “Fyre” on face value is documenting the debacle through a very specific lens, and there is an agenda behind what it does and doesn’t show.
Still, “Fyre” is a very competently made documentary, even if I question why Jerry Media played a role in producing it. It seems that it serves, in a way, to let the company wash their hands of the Fyre Festival debacle, and indeed, their cooperation gives the documentary makers unique access to the production/promotion side of the operation “Fyre Fraud” didn’t have. “Fyre” has enough behind-the-scenes footage of the festival that it entirely makes up for the fact that, unlike “Fyre Fraud,” it doesn’t have an exclusive interview from MacFarland himself. And while the two films share some of the same interview subjects, “Fyre” much better contextualizes them, and its filmmakers have a much better understanding of social media and the specific environment that allowed MacFarland to flourish.
“Fyre” also has its fair share of interview subjects that “Fyre Fraud” doesn’t, as it includes many interviews from former Fyre Media employees, and the film does a great job of portraying why so many people trusted MacFarland, up until the disastrous day of the festival. Through his charisma, he gained the confidence of many influential people who put their reputations on the line for him, and he squandered their good will due to his compulsive lying and disorganization. “Fyre” also does a much better job of documenting the terrible cost the festival had to the locals of the Bahamas, many of whom still have not been paid for the work they did on the festival. One woman interviewed revealed that she lost $50,000 of her savings due to the festival.
I highly recommend watching “Fyre Fraud” as a companion piece to this film, as they compliment each other. “Fyre” is the better film, but “Fyre Fraud” holds Jerry Media, who are responsible for the Fyre Festival for going viral, to a level of scrutiny that “Fyre” just can’t. “Fyre” portrays Jerry Media as yet another professional entity that was duped by MacFarland, but the facts of the matter is, if they demanded more detail from MacFarland up front and did some basic research on what a legitimate festival client is like, the entire Fyre Festival debacle could have been avoided. It never would have went viral, the celebrities and musicians who promoted the festival never would have had their names dragged through the mud, and there would not have been such an immense pressure on MacFarland to deliver on something he physically couldn’t do.
The documentary tries to make the case that doing such due diligence is not the responsibility of ad agencies like Jerry Media, and in truth, it’s not if they have any interest in having a good reputation. While their marketing of the festival was excellent, it doesn’t change the fact that they enabled a snake oil salesman to hurt a lot of people. And to be fair, Jerry Media were not the only ones complicit in his scheme.
“Fyre” has a much stronger editorial voice than its Hulu counterpart, though “Fyre Fraud” is a great counterweight to “Fyre”‘s narrative. As a unit, they both tell a more complete version of what happened with the Fyre Festival, though there are still undoubtedly missing pieces in the narrative that other works will fill in. Failed music festivals are fascinating, and I doubt these two films will be the last that cover the Fyre Festival debacle.
“Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was” gets an 8/10