By now, you’re probably familiar with Fyre Festival, the failed music festival that briefly lit up social media in April 2017 with pictures of sad cheese sandwiches and tales of rich millennials stranded on a Bahamian island with very little infrastructure.
Lawsuits and charges followed, cementing the festival as a disaster. The cap to all this was “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was,” a Netflix documentary by Chris Smith (“American Movie”), which tells the behind the scenes story, giving never before heard details about how this all went wrong.
In a surprise twist, the day embargos were lifted for reviews, Hulu dropped a rival documentary called “Fyre Fraud,” perhaps aiming to capitalize on those who would be searching for information about “Fyre.” This kind of rivalry happened in the past, like with “Volcano” and “Dante’s Peak” and with “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” but it’s rare to see this happen with documentaries. Which is the better one?
“Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was,” owing to its director’s pedigree, is the more professionally made documentary, and thus is more focused. It consists of archival footage shot by Jerry Media (the company behind the social media advertising for the festival), as well as interviews with various people involved in the company. With this, Smith tracks the inception of the festival and the mounting crises that happened with the complex festival planned in only a few months.
The whole thing has a feeling of dread, as we see the organizers fruitlessly planning and doing their best for a task they cannot possibly accomplish. Notably, while several employees speak on camera, Fyre’s CEO Billy McFarland is absent from the proceedings for reasons that become clear later. Overall, “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was” places the blame on McFarland, as the leader who deluded himself into thinking it would work, then absconded when it all collapsed.
“Fyre Fraud,” on the other hand, is a bit more of a ramshackle affair, to its own detriment. It seems as though it was rushed in order to get the scoop on Netflix, and as a result, is less focused than “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was.” McFarland does speak on camera here, reportedly because the filmmakers paid him to. As to whether that was worth it, he doesn’t offer any new insights, and the filmmakers don’t push him on his own responsibility. Elsewhere, the employees of Fyre pin the blame on Jerry Media, and talking heads espouse on the idea that millenials believed they would be missing out if they didn’t go. It feels more salacious than “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was,” even though it doesn’t really give you anything you wouldn’t find there, except for a lot of stock footage that quickly grows tiresome.
If I had to recommend one documentary over the other, the clear choice would be “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was,” only because the dawning sense of horror lends a bigger punch to some of the more insane revelations. “Fyre Fraud” may be a little less ethical in places, but these are all unethical people, each trying to save their own hides, reframing the narrative to their own advantage. In the end, both form portraits of sheer incompetence, highlighting the fact that some very real people (namely, all the Bahamian locals), were hurt in this stunt, and paints at least a tiny bit of sympathy all around. It’s certainly a fascinating topic, one we probably won’t be done with any time soon.