Two Documentaries, One Awful Festival

Hulu and Netflix each explore everything that went wrong with the Fyre Festival
Attendees of the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas were promised luxury; they got used FEMA tents and cheese sandwiches.

There they are, waiting for you. Supermodels and Instagram vixens splashing in the Caribbean with the famous swimming hogs of Big Major Cay. Maybe they should have called it the Circe Festival instead of the Fyre Festival. The swindled victims weren't literally turned to swine, but they weren't treated much better than pigs.

Most of the world knows what happened, and moreover has had a real good laugh at it. The dueling documentaries Fyre Fraud (Hulu) by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, and Chris Smith's Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Netflix) take slightly different stances on the dreadful fest.

Both tell of how Jersey go-getter Billy McFarland made his name by selling the Magnises credit card to millenials, with a $250 annual fee. There were certain club benefits, disputed by the two docs; Netflix's doc admires the Magnises lounge and club nights. The Hulu version snipes that the Magnises bennies were getting to rub shoulders with guys from Murray Hill, one of NYC's most boring neighborhoods.

These Magnises (was it meant to be short for "Magnificent Penis"?) helped McFarland build a Rolodex, which he used to fund the development of a band-booking app called Fyre. It was to be promoted with an awesome music festival on a private Caribbean island in spring 2017. McFarland hired a public relations firm, which turned to social media "influencers"—professional inducers of online FOMO—to promote the party. Ja Rule issued an endorsement, ostensibly to lend Fyre some street cred.

And then everything went wrong. There was inadequate prep time, several changes of location, a surprise rainstorm and the serious oversight of scheduling the festival during a regatta weekend—which sucked up all the available rental properties. The elite arrived to find used disaster relief tents waiting for them, with windows that didn't keep out the mosquitoes. They rushed back to the States, complaining into their iPhones every step of the way.

There's more than a little overlap between these documentaries. They both feature the same viral video of Ja Rule, chased by the schoolboys from Lord of the Flies. Vice Media was involved in the Netflix account, which has the most scandalous material. Here event planner Andy King tells of how McFarland begged him to fellate a certain Bahamian minister to get a planeload of Evian water released from customs' duties.

Hulu's Fyre Fraud has personal access to McFarland—in fact, the producers paid him to talk—when the grifter was on bail and secretly cooking yet more scams. Here we get childhood legends of McFarland's hustling youth from his mom, in communications hilariously read out loud by text-to-speech software.

If Netflix's Fyre: TGFTNH is more fair, it's less fun. The title says it all—it doesn't question the necessity of the fest. The Fyre Festival didn't work, but wouldn't it have been insanely cool if it had? Marc Weinstein, one of McFarland's assistants who is still on the hook for some of the unpaid wages, argues, "There was definitely a chance to pull it all together." Thus, the Netflix doc may be a stepping stone to the inevitable exculpatory whitewashing feature film, with Jonah Hill or Leonardo Dicaprio playing McFarland. It's inevitable, an on-screen pity party for a showman who dreamed too big.

By contrast, Hulu's Fyre Fraud suggests a larger picture, in its account of how McFarland's scams were hot air sucked up and made forceful by the Venturi effect of the internet envy machine. One prefers Fyre Fraud's sense in exploring the sleaziness of McFarland's dream, with supermodels jiggling in slow-mo, posing and grinning—images that are, to borrow critic David Thomson's phrase, "an advertisement for advertisement."

It's not going out into the weeds to suggest that this mirage called the Fyre Festival mirrors the way America so often falls for a charismatic figure who cares less about the truth than what his gut tells him. Was the Fyre Festival a merry distraction from the Trumpster Fire, or do they parallel each other?

Fyre Fraud convincingly identifies the fraud-fest as just one more chimera of modern times, a 24-hour game of "let's pretend," in which one cannot tell if someone is a delusional liar or the smartest person in the room. And of course, Silicon Valley successes and delusions continue this shadow-show.

Now Streaming
Fyre Fraud
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

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