Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened' goes up in flames

Netflix's documentary critiques unchecked wealth with 2017's 'Fyre Festival'

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Screenshot from Netflix

A massive marketing campaign of models and influencers extolled the inaugural Fyre Festival’s glamour, promising a weekend of high caliber musicians, gourmet meals, and luxury accommodations.

In reality, attendees were housed in rain-soaked hurricane shelters and fed cheese sandwiches in Styrofoam containers—a far cry from the advertised festival which cost between $500 and $12,000 to attend.

Netflix’s original documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened examines the larger-than-life personality of Fyre Media CEO, Billy McFarland, questioning how such a massive endeavor could go down in flames.

The Fyre Festival was a music festival scheduled to take place over two weekends in April and May of 2017 in the Bahamas. Organized by McFarland and rapper Ja Rule as a luxury event to promote the Fyre talent booking app, the event promised to break the boundaries of conventional music festivals. Social media influencers, including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski, were used in Instagram advertisements for the festival, which promised to be a star-studded, luxury experience.

Riding on the coattails of a semi-successful elite credit card service, McFarland and his team came up with the idea for the festival before they even confirmed or booked the infrastructure meant to host it.

The filmmakers repeatedly used footage from the first promotional shoot for the Fyre Festival, which featured clips of models like Hadid and Ratajkowski. Fyre relied on these socialite personalities to convince hundreds to purchase tickets for the festival. The difference between the promised beach paradise and the resulting chaos made for the film’s shocking opening.

The documentary artfully crafts a narrative out of chaos, portraying McFarland as a character with Shakespearean levels of hubris. It weaves together stories of his past ventures and Fyre Festival’s failures to explain how conning hundreds into funding a catastrophe was possible.

Viewers will watch in horror as attendees climb over each other to grab their luggage from a transport truck and run through hurricane tents to find shelter. The organizer’s lack of resources caused festival goers to hoard supplies and fear for their safety. In the morning, during attempts to flee the island and return home, the group was placed in a local Bahamian airport—where the doors were locked to prevent anyone from leaving—without food and water.  

After everyone was able to return home, the organizers were consequently involved in eight lawsuits. An FBI investigation revealed Fyre’s suspect dealings with investors, and McFarland pled guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced to six years in prison.

While the crimes committed are serious, the documentary strikes a lighter tone in balancing the frat-boy like behaviour of the festival’s co-founders with the deadpan delivery of retrospective interviews.

What struck me most was a quick scene midway through the planning process of the festival. One man calls for the attention of a crowd gathered around a table, raising his voice in an attempt to discuss the logistics of bathrooms on the island. Before he can show anyone his plans, someone spills beer on his diagram and the whole thing is ruined.

“We’re selling a pipe dream for your average loser,” the organizers exclaim around a bonfire, in a shaky clip filmed with a smartphone. The group lets out a resounding cheer in response.

With each twist in the chaos, I couldn’t look away from the corrupt institution collapsing. I also felt an intense sympathy for many of the individuals interviewed who were caught in the mess.

Fyre manages to capture how the festival was doomed from the outset, and how dangerous arrogance and ambition can be when combined with unchecked wealth. The Fyre Festival was nothing but smoke and mirrors, entrapping attendees into an illusion of success.

This documentary doesn’t simply serve as a play-by-play of the events leading up to the lawsuits and criminal investigations. Fyre is a harsh critique of the contemporary drive for the empty appearance of luxury.

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