Between Leaving Neverland, Abducted in Plain Sight, and the Madeline McCann eight-parter, 2019 is apparently the year of top notch mainstream documentaries. Chris Smith’s Fyre is no exception, presenting the startlingly baffling events of 2017’s Fyre Festival: a douchebag, yuppy, hipster festival appealing to the vainest and wealthiest social media whores that money and self loathing can buy. I’d actually seen a similar documentary, albeit on a much smaller scale by a Youtuber, so was aware of the gist of the event going in. However, that certainly isn’t necessary, as the film goes into great depth explaining how the hell this all happened. The rabbit hole goes deep in this well researched, and simply well made piece of cinema. What it offers on the other hand has to be seen to be believed…
Fyre tells the tale of Billy McFarland, a young American entrepreneur / scam artist, who, as a promotional tactic for one of his sub companies, decides to organise an uber exclusive festival on a private island in the Bahamas. It does not go to plan. The documentary further explores the aftermath of the event, which is perhaps the most ridiculous element of all. The decisions that this man makes are unfathomable, and he simply seemed to be so engrossed in his own hyperbole, that he refused to make rational decisions, assuming that nothing could go wrong for him. If there’s one message that Fyre attempts to portray, it’s a warning; don’t mistake limited success for untouchability.
The sheer amount of interviews performed and their profound bluntness is incredibly telling, and makes for a documentary that provides almost every piece of the puzzle, with little left unanswered. Short of the infamous McFarland and Ja Rule themselves, everyone worth interviewing are able to tell their story. These interviews are so interesting, because they expose the insane level of ignorance and ‘we’ll do it later’ culture, particularly from McFarland, who, from the footage and testimonials, acts like he’s not even from this planet. He lacks any ability to acknowledge the level of trouble he’s in, in favour of ‘solution based responses.’ Most of the staff come off as likeable and / or sympathetic, particularly those with large personal investments lost because of Billy’s incompetence. Though the documentary might be accused of presenting a bias perspective, based on its overwhelming evidence, it’s clear to see that the blame is firmly placed correctly: it’s McFarland’s fault, alone. Meme culture will also tell you that certain interviewees are more, erm, memorable than others. Enough said until you watch it.
Putting aside the infuriating festival itself, the documentary is masterfully made. Its pacing is excellent, giving a good level of background to Billy, Ja, the various companies, and all of the interviewees before taking us through the preparation for the festival. This is then followed by a step by step explanation of its descent into chaos, with every conceivable thing that could go wrong, going wrong. The empathetic staff become our avatars, and many of them are figures that we root for, despite knowing that the endgame is one of disaster. The film also has so much raw footage that it doesn’t have to resort to reconstructions, which is nearly always a good decision for better documentarian storytelling. If there’s one thing it misses, it’s a memorable score, which could’ve really elevated it and helped grow tension even further. Also, (and wow, this is petty, but it shows how little is wrong with the film) the small orange text above the interviewees is sometimes difficult to read.
So, please do watch Fyre. It’s a frankly fantastic documentary that manages to build tension effectively, and will have you throwing your hands in the air in frustration and exasperation every two minutes. It’s an incredibly interesting story that shows how one stupid man’s confidence and bravado can spiral into one of the single greatest PR disasters of all time. Market something well enough and pay social media influencers a quarter of a million to say it’s great, and people will practically beg you to pay £10,000 a ticket. Seriously.