To be frank with you, I did not know much about the Fyre Festival incident in 2017 before watching Netflix documentary film “Fyre”, which gives us a close look on how absurd and devastating that unbelievable case of fraud was in many aspects. During my viewing, I could not help but amused by how far a man behind this fraud case could go, but I also came to feel saddened as observing the enormous damages done to numerous people who unfortunately happened to be associated with him and his fraudulent project, and the documentary did a good job of presenting its incredible real-life story while also working as another cautionary tale of our digital age.
The man in question is Billy McFarland, a young entrepreneur who was the co-founder of Fyre around that time. While trying to promote an online application developed by his company, he and his co-founder Ja Rule, who is a prominent figure in American hip-hop industry, came to have an idea of holding a big music festival on a certain small island of the Bahamas, and they quickly embarked on the promotion of this future event of theirs. They and others including several beautiful female models flied to that island for shooting a promotional video, and everyone had a pretty good time there while the camera crew members shot their fun time as much as possible. Although the shooting process was not exactly smooth, the final result, which glamorously showed these beautiful women and others having a luxurious fun on the Bahamian beach, was more than enough to draw attention on the Internet, and that certainly looked like a promising start for McFarland and many others who participated in the preparation for the festival.
However, the situation looked problematic from the very beginning. The festival was supposed to accommodate more than 5,000 people, but the island where it was supposed to be held did not have any infrastructure for that, and it did not even have any proper staying places for festival attendees. While looking lovely on the surface, it had heat and mosquitoes problem, and things got more complicated when the owner of the island did not let McFarland and his people use the island after learning that the promotional video emphasized that the island once belonged to Pablo Escobar.
Eventually, the festival was moved to a nearby island, but McFarland and his people faced another set of many problems there. While they managed to get a big, wide location, they still did not have any substantial infrastructure for their festival, and they did not even build staying places for attendees although the scheduled date of their festival approached closer and closer.
As more aware of the increasingly messy situation surrounding their festival, a number of people who had closely worked with McFarland naturally became more concerned, but, as many of them admit during their interviews in the documentary, they only found themselves more deeply involved in McFarland’s project, which was not only inherently faulty but also evidently fraudulent. While there was virtually no appropriate preparation for the festival, he sold thousands of tickets along with several luxurious options which did not really exist from the start, and he even promised the appearances of a bunch of notable musicians such as Major Lazer.
One crucial element in McFarland’s fraud scheme was social network services, and the documentary closely examines how his festival received lots of public attention through those popular social network services such as Instagram and Twitter. He paid lots of money to various online celebrities who willingly promoted the festival without asking too much, and the result of this online promotion turned out to be so popular that some sobering warnings about the festival did not get any attention at all despite many clear evidences.
In the end, the festival began on April 28th, 2017, and the people working for the festival came to realize that they were tumbling into a circumstance way over their heads. As hundreds of attendees came to the festival site, chaos reigned because nobody knew what to do with these attendees, and we see and hear about how nightmarish the situation was for everyone at the festival, which, not so surprisingly, was canceled on the very next day.
The aftermath was devastating to say the least. Many people involved with McFarland were fallen into serious financial debt as a consequence, and there were also hundreds of local workers who did not get paid at all while only left with anger and frustration. In case of a middle-aged local lady who has run a small restaurant near the festival site, she and a group of people hired by her worked very hard for earning the money promised to them by McFarland’s company, but then she came to lose her lifetime savings as paying her employees instead, and it is really heartbreaking to see her still feeling hurt by her financial loss.
On the whole, “Fyre” is an engaging and informative documentary, and director Christ Smith deftly handles his subject as providing us a clear, disturbing view on how thoroughly McFarland deceived everyone with his winning smile and charisma to the end. He was eventually charged with one count of wire fraud and is currently serving his 6-year prison sentence, but, to be frank with you, I think that is rather mild compared to all the pains and losses resulted from his delusional acts of crime.
Sidenote: Incidentally, “Fyre” is not the only recent documentary film on the Fyre Festival incident. Not long before it was released on Netflix, Hulu released documentary film “Fyre Fraud” (2019), and I will soon watch and then write about it.