New Netflix documentary uses behind-the-scenes video, corporate content and contemporary interviews to explore Billy McFarland and Ja Rule’s infamous 2017 music festival, how it was sold to the wealthy, and how the event descended into chaos.
Streaming from Jan 18th, the film is gloriously watchable, often barely believable must-see documentary, writes Steve Newall.
Besides eroding democracy, selling personal data, or both at the same time, social media has been fantastically successful at capturing the worst impulses of humanity, seen most notably in the 21st-century scourge of online “influencers”. Of course, social media is also great at covering events of significance in real time, ranging in scope from natural disasters to the meme of the moment. Historians of the future are bound to note that nothing to date has quite managed to encompass all of the above like 2017’s disastrous Fyre Festival.
Thanks to the vanity and hubris of the people behind it, chiefly the now-convicted company boss Billy McFarland, so much of the lead-up to this hopefully once-in-a-lifetime “event” has been documented on camera. This footage is paired with on-camera interviews with Fyre Festival employees and artists, as this unmissable new Netflix documentary shows how everything managed to go so far off the rails. A fitting expression when so much of the cocksure behaviour of McFarland, business partner Ja Rule, and other management in the early stages of marketing the event (ie paying supermodels to hang out with them and make promo videos in bikinis) suggests they were massively on the rails the whole time.
They’re certainly filled with booze and bravado, unaware they come across as huge creeps. A case in point—Ja Rule and McFarland’s shared toast “Here’s to living like movie stars, partying like rock stars…. Billy?” “And fucking like pornstars!” Predictably, it turns out these gentlemen needed events professionals to do some actual work while Fyre bosses pass out on the beach, or drunkenly yell at supermodels to take their clothes off and jump in the ocean with them (Ja Rule does not come off well at all in this footage). These former workers certainly do not hold back on how things turned into a hellish nightmare for festival attendees, although the documentary doesn’t do much to dial down the schadenfreude many felt at the plight of ticket buyers, especially when their own social media videos pop up towards the end—and the tent-slashing, mattress-pissing, and looting begins.
You’d have to think pretty much everyone reading this review or watching the doco knows where the story is heading, but the jaw-dropping gall of McFarland has to be seen to be believed, as do the recollections of those who tried to do the impossible and deliver a functional event. “It’s possible that, by solving problems, we were just enabling them to continue to create this monster,” one accurately notes.
Sure, this saga ended in jail time when the justice system disagreed with noted legal scholar Ja Rule’s assertion in a post-Fyre conference call captured onscreen: “That’s not fraud. That’s not fraud. That is uh, I would call that uh… false advertising”. And a bunch of people lost a ton of money. But at least we have this film that illustrates so much about entrepreneurship, the pursuit and commodification of social status, and how scumbags who have no idea what they are doing can give live events a bad name. It’s a gloriously watchable, often barely believable, documentary. You’ve simply got to see it.