It was a curious experience for me to watch Hulu documentary film “Fyre Fraud”, which presents an unbelievably absurd story about the Fyre Festival fraud case in 2017. Not long after it was released in last week, another documentary film on the same subject, “Fyre” (2019), was released on Netflix, and I was certainly interested in watching both of them and then comparing them.
One of the main differences between these two documentaries is that “Fyre Fraud” focuses more closely on Billy McFarland, the man who is mainly responsible for the disastrous outcome of the Fyre Festival. While he is mainly presented via archival footage clips in “Fyre”, the directors/writers of “Fyre Fraud”, Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, interviewed him in addition to a number of interviewees willing to talk about him and the Fyre Festival, and he seems to be ready to tell us anything in front of the camera.
However, as already suggested from the beginning of the documentary, McFarland is a compulsive liar and con man who cunningly exploited the growing desire for popularity and acceptance in the millennial generation, and that is exemplified well by how he could rise quickly with his steel credit card company Magnises. As promising many cool and luxurious things provided through exclusive card membership, he instantly drew lots of attention from media and public, and many young people were eager to be the members of Magnises, but Magnises was actually nothing but a superficial enterprise whose main purpose was giving more wealth and prominence to McFarland, who eventually moved onto another enterprise when Magnises collapsed a few years later.
Around that point, McFarland happened to meet Ja Rule, a prominent figure of the American hip-hop industry who came to found a digital technology company along with McFarland. While looking for any good idea for promoting their company, named Fyre, they came upon an idea of holding a big music festival in the Bahamas, and they soon embarked on the public promotion of the Fyre Festival. They shot a promotional video at a small island where their music festival was supposed to be held, and the resulting promotional video went viral on the Internet mainly thanks to a group of popular social media influencers such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, who promoted the Fyre Festival without any hesitation after getting paid a lot by McFarland and his company.
With the rapidly growing public attention on it, the Fyre Festival was expected to be the “Woodstock of the Millennial Generation”, but there was one big problem. The island in question did not have any appropriate infrastructure to support the festival from the beginning, and, above all, there was not enough time left for the preparation of the festival. Around the time when the location of the festival was eventually moved to a nearby island which had a bigger spot, the preparation process was still stuck in a rudimentary stage without any progress, and many people working on the festival came to have a growing doubt on the festival while also worrying about the worst possible situation.
In the meantime, McFarland and his company kept going further with their increasingly vacuous promotion process. Although nothing was built on the location of the festival yet, he impertinently sold tickets along with various luxurious options which did not exist at all from the beginning, and he even required his guests to deposit a considerable amount of money on electronic wristbands which were supposed to be handed out to them at the festival.
Of course, some people came to have reasonable suspicion about the Fyre Festival, and one interviewee in the documentary tells us how he tried to give others a warning about the festival but, to his frustration, did not draw much attention mainly thanks to the aggressive promotion by McFarland and his associates. As the opening day of the festival came closer, more attention was drawn to the festival even though nothing much was done on the site of the festival except hundreds of cheap white tents and mattresses, and everyone involved with the festival sensed more of a big disaster coming toward them – especially when it rained quite hard on the day before the festival.
When hundreds of guests arrived on the opening day of the festival, they surely had lots of expectation on the festival, but then they were utterly shocked by many crappy things waiting for them at the site of the festival. The situation soon became pretty chaotic as they were stuck there for hours, and the documentary gives us several painfully absurd moments vividly showing their predicaments during that time.
After this catastrophic fiasco which caused considerable damages to not only hundreds of guests but also many people who were unfortunately associated with him and his company, McFarland was soon indicted for his fraud, but, believe or not, he tried another fraud even at that point. He was eventually charged with one count of wire fraud, and he is currently serving his 6-year prison sentence, though, in my humble opinion, his sentence is rather mild compared to all the pains and losses resulted from his delusional acts of crime.
Overall, “Fyre Fraud” does not provide anything particularly new outside what I learned from “Fyre”, but it presents its subject well with enough information while also making some incisive comments on our ongoing era of digital social media. Although it may feel redundant to you at time if you watched “Fyre”, it is still a good documentary worthwhile to watch, and you will come to reflect more on the dark sides of the growing influence of digital technology on our world and society.