Film | Fyre - an account of the day the music died
Can you remember what you were doing on the 27th of April, 2017? Most likely not, though you could probably infer that you woke, dressed and checked social media for the day’s latest scandals, even if you can’t recall the specifics. For America’s influencers and music industry professionals, however, it was a day and a drama that they are unlikely to forget — a dream vacation that soon soured into a holiday from hell. After months of marketing and hype, but after seemingly just a few weeks of planning and preparation, Fyre Festival welcomed thousands of customers and high profile guests expecting an immersive musical experience on an exclusive Bahamian island. Rather than being greeted like VIPs, however, attendees were left to fend for themselves at a glorified building site, forced to fight over disaster-relief tents and storm-damaged mattresses as panicked organisers barricaded themselves inside one of the site’s few buildings, seemingly more concerned with the disaster unfolding online than the one in full flow outside.
While much of the scorn and scrutiny in the days and weeks that followed Fyre Festival’s eventual, long-overdue cancellation was reserved for the festival-goers themselves, with images of preening, over-privileged revelers freaking out over basic cheese sandwiches going viral online, Chris Smith’s jaw-dropping documentary for Netflix concerns itself instead with the mounting chaos and confusion behind the scenes, as bands pulled out, organisers fled and the true scale of Fyre Media founder William McFarland’s deceit became clear to investors, journalists and lawyers alike. Boasting interviews with Fyre’s staff and associates such as event producer Andy King, an early acolyte of McFarland’s who’s left to reckon with his role in facilitating the Fyre debacle, the film attempts to reconcile the entrepreneur everyone thought they knew with the conman subsequently convicted of fraud. McFarland and Ja Rule are conspicuous by their absence, at least as talking heads, but there is so much second-hand footage of them both that it is still possible to form an impression of the pair and to a build sense of how their fantasia survived as long as it did.
Smith, however, rightly reserves his greatest sympathies for the denizens of Great Exuma itself, many of whom were left to pick up the pieces long after everyone else had returned to the mainland and, this being America, sued for compensation. The islanders were even more of an afterthought than the festival itself, with McFarland and Rule originally planning to hold it on nearby Fyre Cay, a unpopulated private island with apparent ties to Pablo Escobar. The event’s infamous promotional video was even filmed there, with musicians, models and employees being flown in for what ultimately amounted to a big, expensive party, before a marketing snafu found them ejected and in need of a new venue. Sold on the promise of jobs and a vision of many more festivals to follow, the people of Great Exuma embraced the opportunity and committed hundreds of man-hours to make the venture a success. However, they, like everyone else, were sadly duped, and even two years later the workforce has yet to be paid. Local business owners were hit too, with restaurateur Maryann Rolle having to use her own life savings to reimburse her staff after she made the decision to feed abandoned attendees rerouted to the beach while McFarland selfishly attempted to buy himself more time.
Fyre may be subtitled “The Greatest Party That Never Happened”, but in truth the party did go ahead — something not lost on the film’s interviewees. The promotional video, Instagram images and millions of dollars of debt are proof of it. The festival, meanwhile, was envisioned as a means of paying for its founders excesses, and then when costs inevitably spiraled again customers were promised new levels of luxury as long as they paid for the privilege, and yet more contractors brought in to try and make each preposterous promise a reality — the cycle beginning again. What had started out as an innocuous orange square on Instagram had collapsed into a black hole in the Bahamas. The story isn’t quite over yet, however, with all involved confident that the world (or the Internet, at least) might not have seen the last of McFarland. On a happier note though, Fyre (and Hulu’s own documentary, Fyre Fraud) has spotlighted more deserving subjects and helped to bolster various fundraising campaigns seeking to recompense the islanders. Hopefully they too might one day be able to forget the time they were unfortunately burned by Fyre.