There Are Two Fyre Festival Documentaries. Which Should You Watch?
As if the world of 2019 isn’t confusing enough already, there are two different documentaries about the Fyre Festival debuting on two different streaming services this week. Yesterday, Hulu premiered Fyre Fraud. On Friday, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened will be available on Netflix. Though they are both about the same subject — the infamous Fyre music festival that crashed and burned in the most public way possible in the spring of 2017 — they’re surprisingly different movies. Here’s how to tell them apart.
Available on Hulu
Fyre Fraud’s key distinction is that, unlike Netflix’s Fyre, it features an exclusive interview with Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland. McFarland is the guy who launched the festival in order to promote his media company’s talent-booking app and eventually (SPOILERS for real life crimes) was sentenced to six years in prison for multiple counts of fraud. Although McFarland shows up throughout Netflix’s Fyre in archival footage and clips from cable news shows, if you want to see him talk about the festival and his career after Fyre crashed and burned — or you’re curious what McFarland’s girlfriend thinks about all this — Fyre Fraud is where you’ll find that.
Hulu’s film also focuses more heavily on the world of social media around the Fyre Fest than Netflix’s. Talking heads like The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino appear to put the Fyre disaster into a broader cultural context. If you have no idea what FOMO stands for or what an “influencer” is, this one will explain it to you.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Available on Netflix
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened doesn’t have McFarland, but it does have interviews with many more of the other people who worked behind-the-scenes at Fyre Festival. That includes the members of Jerry Media, the social media company that helped create the initial Fyre Fest trailer that became a viral sensation, as well other event planners, sound designers, and assorted enablers. Netflix’s Fyre also includes a lot more detail about — and more interviews with the staff of — the Fyre app, which gives helpful background to understanding why McFarland and his associates wanted to put on this event in the first place. As a result, this film’s breakdown of the breakdown is much more detailed and thorough.
Netflix’s Fyre documentary is by Chris Smith, an accomplished filmmaker whose previously directed docs like American Movie, The Yes Men, Collapse, and Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. You can read my full review of Netflix’s Fyre documentary here, but if you’re a fan of Smith’s work, you’ll find that the new film fits in thematically with his previous productions. It’s also a slicker film than Hulu’s, with better graphics and editing.
Which Should You Watch?
I have watched both documentaries, and prefer Netflix’s. While Hulu’s film does have an interview with Billy McFarland, he is not particularly forthcoming with information. He does fill in some of the information about Fyre and his previous business ventures, but he mostly offers “No comment”s on anything involving the actual festival and potential malfeasance. A good percentage of his interviews in the film are just him stammering or sitting in awkward silence.
A report in The Ringer claims McFarland was paid by Hulu for his participation in their documentary — Chris Smith says McFarland claimed they were paying him $250,000, a number Jenner Furst, director of Fyre Fraud, says is “a lie.” If McFarland was paid even 10 percent of that number, Hulu did not get their money’s worth out of him.
Furst also noted to The Ringer that Netflix’s Fyre film was co-produced by Jerry Media, the same company that helped publicize the doomed festival in the first place. “I feel like there’s a bigger ethically compromised position,” Furst said to The Ringer, referring to his own film paying McFarland for an interview, “and that’s going and partnering with folks who marketed the Fyre Festival and were well aware that this was not going to happen as planned.” While it’s certainly noteworthy that Jerry Media participated in Netflix’s Fyre, their documentary doesn’t exactly paint their company, or even their basic business model of seducing people with the power of social media, in a particularly flattering light.
Even if Smith had interviewed McFarland, it may not have improved his documentary; both films make it clear everything McFarland says should be treated with an enormous amount of skepticism. With or without the Fyre founder, Netflix’s documentary seems more comprehensive about the event itself — about why it happened and why it failed so utterly — while Hulu’s seems much more interested in explaining (and in some cases over-explaining) some of the broader cultural trends around it. Netflix also has footage of McFarland apparently orchestrating even more fraud after he was already out on bail, through a ticket-selling company called NYC VIP Access. It’s perhaps the most jaw-dropping sequence in either movie.
Neither film is bad, but Netflix’s is better. If I was going to only watch one of the two, that’s the one I would pick.
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