The story of FYRE beggars belief, and this new Netflix documentary (subtitled The Festival That Never Happened) serves as a damning chronicle of its founder, Billy McFarland, and the path of destruction he left in his wake. It is also an alarming reproach of an excess-driven culture and the affluent youth who value popularity and wealth above all else.
FYRE was a luxury music festival promoted by renowned entrepreneur Billy McFarland and his business partner (aka accomplice), rapper Ja Rule. It began as a spontaneous promotional video featuring famous models living large in the Bahamas. It teased people on social media of an exclusive festival located on a secluded island formerly owned by Pablo Escobar. The promise was of a once-in-a-lifetime experience unlike any other; private villas, luxurious yachts, high-end entertainment and an abundance of pleasures. Its founders took advantage of social media influencers and within days of the first promo launching, they had over-sold their tickets without a single plan of action in place.
I remember the furore in 2017 that spread throughout the media like a wildfire, and I recall seeing images of waterlogged refuge tents and utter chaos unfolding on the beaches. People had paid tens of thousands of dollars to be part of the experience, only to be faced with turmoil. Every single promise they were given for their price of admission was broken and after a night of hell they were all but rioting against the organisers.
The media coverage at the time was unbelievable and I thought I had seen it all… but apparently not. FYRE delves much deeper than I thought was imaginable and with a staggering abundance of behind-the-scenes footage shot by the organisers, director Chris Smith (American Movie) explores the entire story, from its conception right through to its flabbergasting conclusion. Former employees speak candidly of their experience and provide a no-holds-barred account of what exactly happened. I wont reveal much more of the story so that you can see it for yourself, and I would recommend you avoid researching it before you watch.
The impact of this documentary is all the more astonishing from a naïve perspective. The most concerning aspect about the film is its examination of a certain affluent culture, whose wealth is mostly inherited, and whose lives are spent boasting about their wealth and seeking gratification. It’s an ugly movement that has been creeping into society with the rise of social media. Public figures like Kendall Jenner – as featured in this film – use their influence to fortify a manufactured lifestyle, which is unattainable to most. And while I have no issue with wealthy people in general, I do take issue with those that choose to promote this type of fantasy.
Jenner and other influencers were paid $250,000 to simultaneously send ONE single Instagram post. Yes, just one… which was a blank orange tile with the #FYRE hashtag attached to it. The notion of this is disgusting, and the success that such a stupid gesture achieved is even more repulsive. As the train wreck of the festival unfolds on screen we are shown the global backlash, which included ridicule across social media. One twitter post that caught my attention read, “Every time a rich kid is scammed an angel gets its wings”, and I think that this sentiment sums up the film perfectly. Because never mind the fact that gullible people lost a lot of money – what about the workers? The hundreds of people employed to work tirelessly around the clock without receiving a single dime… the outrage never seems to end.
Chris Smith tells the story effectively and navigates the story well. He bounces between talking heads and home-video footage to compile a comprehensive account of the festival that never was. It’s hard to believe that the villainous players documented their crimes with their own perverted multi-cam set-up, and this has allowed Smith to fully expose their frauds with ease. The FYRE Festival was certainly one of the great swindles of our time and by the end of the film you are sure be baying for blood. Billy McFarland and his deplorable cohort, Ja Rule, deserve to be carved up and served on platters of the finest gold. FYRE is one hell of a doco, but damn if it’s not infuriating.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆
‘FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’ is currently streaming on Netflix. You can watch it right HERE.