Fyre Fraud


The face of a modern conman.

(2019) Documentary (Hulu) Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, Calvin Wells, Vickie Segar, Jia Tolentino, Ben Meiselas, Erielle Reshef, Jesse Eisinger, Anastasia Eremenko, Emily Boehm, Aubrey McClendon, Corolla Jain, Delroy Jackson, Ava Turnquest, Dave Brooks, Austin Mills, Elliot Tebele, Oren Aks, Michael Swaigen, Maria Konnikova, Daniel “Skywalker” Goldstein, Alyssa Lynch. Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason

 

Some of you may have seem the term “FOMO” when browsing social media. It stands for “Fear of Missing Out” and is a particular curse of modern youth culture. Our society has become obsessed with the illusion of the good life, perhaps because it seems unattainable to us in an era when the gap between haves and have-nots is widening.

This documentary, one of two on the ill-fated Fyre Festival in 2017 that promised supermodels, luxury accommodations, 5-star cuisine, and a music festival on a private Bahamian island delivered only FEMA tents and stale cheese sandwiches in Styrofoam boxes. It has become a symbol of hype vs. reality as the organizers who were always in way above their heads but resorted to keeping their investors and employees in the dark and left thousands of Bahamian workers holding the bag, fleeced thousands of Instagram-obsessed would-be hedonists.

There is a little bit of an eye-twinkle to the Hulu documentary which without warning was made available five days earlier than the competing documentary on the subject on Netflix, and utilizes dozens of clips from TV shows to illustrate certain points – almost all of them available to binge on Hulu, don’t you know. However, in the main, the filmmakers go for the jugular when explaining how things went so horribly wrong.

The big difference between this documentary and the Netflix one (comparisons are inescapable) is that the filmmakers got main culprit Billy McFarland for an on-camera interview. Temper that information, however, with the knowledge that McFarland was apparently well-paid for his time; most journalists shy away from paid interviews for a lot of ethical reasons, not the least of which is that the appearance of being soft on the subject is almost inevitable. To be fair though, the filmmakers didn’t go easy on McFarland at all. He’s asked some pretty tough questions to which he often gets evasive or in some cases, outright lies in response. He’s a charming man, no doubt, but he is also fast and loose with the truth. Shortly after his interview was filmed, he was convicted of wire fraud (notice how it rhymes with the documentary title) and sentenced to six years in prison.

Much of the film takes square aim at what I suppose they would call Millennial culture – the directors themselves are Millennials – but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. It’s not just Millennials who contribute to the out-of-control consumerism that dominates social media although they certainly contribute to it. The whole culture of “influencers” is raked over the coals; if influencers are doing the job they’re supposed to, that makes their followers little more than gullible sheep.

Some of the most cogent commentary comes from New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino who helps put the Festival in perspective. Many of those who worked for the Festival were surely aware that they were headed for a train wreck of epic proportions but they were reassured by the brass that things would work out. It is easy to believe in such reassurances when the alternative is unthinkable.

Both of the documentaries on the Festival are flawed and taken together they do form a pretty complete document, so if you have the opportunity to see them both by all means do. However, I’m not so sure that it is worth the time to do that; while they are a chilling comment on our attitudes towards celebrity and consumerist success, they are also not really vital subjects considering everything going on in the world these days.

REASONS TO WATCH: Has the benefit of getting things straight from the organizers.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not as comprehensive and a little bit on the raw side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McFarland agreed to appear in the film on the condition that he be paid.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Hulu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes:79% positive reviews: Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fyre
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Buskers and Lou

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened


Beware of bikini promises; they can be unrealistic.

(2019) Documentary (Netflix) Billy McFarland, Jason Bell, Gabrielle Bluestone, Shiyuan Deng, Ja Rule, Michael Ciccarelli, MDavid Low, Samuel Krost, Andy King, J.R., Brett Kincaid, Mick Purzycki, James Ohlinger, Grant Margolin, Keith van der Linde, Marc Weinstein, Martin Howell, Mark Musters, Luca Sabatini, Maryann Rolle, Calvin Wells, Jillionaire, Alyssa Lynch. Directed by Chris Smith

 

The Fyre Festival of 2017 has become a symbol of disaster. Mismanaged from the get-go, the ads promoted an experience of living like a celebrity (while rubbing elbows with supermodels), living in luxurious accommodations on a private island in the Bahamas, dining on five-star cuisine and listening to some of the hottest bands on the planet. Social media was all (excuse the expression) a-twitter over the event which had social media “Influencers” (a term I absolutely despise) raving about the party of the decade, one that would be remembered for decades as an iconic event.

The event will certainly be remembered but not for the reasons the promoters implied. When festival-goers arrived they found an absolute shambles; rain-soaked FEMA tents, cuisine that was comprised of a sad-looking cheese sandwich and a limp salad, no running water, port-a-potties, no musical acts and a staff which had no idea what was going on.

The Festival was the brainchild of Billy McFarland, a slick promoter who had sold a credit card to those who wanted to be associated with a particular lifestyle, a lifestyle he believed would reach its apex with the Fyre Festival. Partnered with rapper Ja Rule, McFarland hadn’t the least idea of what the logistics of putting together that kind of massive event entailed but he was sure an expert in promoting it, promising things that weren’t there and he didn’t have a prayer of getting.

This documentary, one of two that were released on competing streaming services within a week of one another, has one of those subjects that is very much like an automobile accident; you can’t look away even though you know it’s going to be a horror show. The splashier Netflix documentary mostly looks at the fall-out from the con but it does a great job of showing the rise and fall of the Festival through the eyes of those who worked on it.

It’s easy to be a little bit delighted that the young, wealthy Millennials who went got exactly what they deserved and there is some justification to that; one festival-goer brags about tearing down tents and pissing on mattresses because he didn’t want any neighbors (class act, that). You won’t feel sorry for those folks; after all, you know what they say about fools and their money. The people that you end of feeling for most are the Bahamian construction workers and caterers who went unpaid and were left holding the bag. Marianne Rolle, who was in charge of catering, lost $50K of her own savings and ended up establishing a GoFundMe account to get her workers paid.

Others who worked on website programming and promoting also had their lives and careers negatively affected. Some of them talk about realizing that there was a disaster looming on the horizon but being constantly reassured that things would work out. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Mostly talking head interviews along with some cell phone footage from those who attended the disaster, Smith puts together the story in a concise and entertaining manner. Neither Ja Rule nor McFarland are interviewed here so we get little of his side of the story but as you’ll see from our upcoming review of Fyre Fraud that may not matter much in the long run. This isn’t world-changing but it is a good cautionary tale.

REASONS TO WATCH: A fascinating story that tackles the fallout from a con.
REASONS TO AVOID: More context is needed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was nominated for four primetime Emmys.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/7/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews: Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fyre Fraud
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Fyre Fraud