Even a cursory Google search on the Fyre festival will bring up a half a dozen articles on the new dueling documentaries released on mega streaming platforms Netflix and Hulu within days of each other. Which should you watch? The answer may surprise you.
What is it about a failed event that piques our interest?
For those in the nerd community, this is not a new story. It seems like almost monthly, some new convention blips on the radar only to go gently into that good night- usually leaving behind a trail of empty promises and unanswered emails.
These events involve showrunners, con-goers, special guests- and a special group of people that are absolutely essential for any successful endeavor: the workers. Staff, volunteers, and hired help, these workers make up the backbone of any successful event. For those who work events like these, the job can be exhausting, difficult, bizarre and sometimes even thankless. So why bother?
As Marc Weinstein explains in the Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened, “events always feel like a disaster, they always feel like everything is going wrong and you’re putting out fires. The draw- the appeal was to be part of creating something that was – was special.”
Successful events treasure their workers. It becomes a community- a family. And family? They don’t lie to each other.
Which brings us to the Fyre Festival. Which documentary should you watch?
The answer, of course, is both.
Both documentaries look roughly equal- the events of the failed music festival that went from trending tag to cosmic joke. A brilliant social media campaign squandered on a faulty product, the Fyre festival is all snake oil. What matters is the packaging.
The Hulu original documentary, Fyre Fraud covers the events leading to the festival. With the perfect 20/20 vision that always comes with hindsight, the crew interviews journalists and even the man himself, Billy McFarland, in order to put together a specific timeline of events. The untrustworthiness of those in charge is immediately apparent, and the documentary pulls no punches in focusing on the dirt. The characters, from the social media manager Oren Aks to the charismatic social media influencers shilling the product, are painted as vapid and disaffected, mildly inconvenienced at best by the turn of events they helped to orchestrate. Hardly any time at all is spent on the island itself, and most of what is shown is through the point of view of the higher tier instagram jet-setters who are markedly not scrabbling among the washed out ruins of the campsite for salvage.
Image courtesy of imdb.com
In the end, I walked away from the Hulu documentary with a fair understanding of what led to the disastrous turn of events and a hearty lack of sympathy for all but a handful of those living on the island itself.
And then I watched the other one.
Image courtesy of imdb.com
Hulu’s Fire Fraud is very careful to point out that Netflix’s version is associated with the very social media company that originally promoted the Fyre Festival to begin with, an egregious breach of ethical reporting from their point of view. While the politics of the documentary are clear- the blame is set on Billy and Billy alone- those involved are much more difficult to condemn so thoroughly.
Those who are featured in the Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened are just like you. They came together for different reasons and from different backgrounds in order to pull this off. And they were set up for failure. Overwhelmed, underprepared, and misinformed, the footage shows their enthusiasm wane, flicker, and die.
As one doe-eyed assistant explains, “I’m a 22 year old kid, I’ve never booked talent for a festival [before].” Krost trusted Billy, even as he snagged talent by promising 2 or 3 times their usual rate, going into personal debt to see the festival succeed.
We hear from those who tried to be the voice of reason, begging him to cancel the festival, or at least to postpone. Powerless, they watched those who spoke up be demoted or even fired. They doubled down, worked harder. It backfired.
“By solving problems, we were enabling them to create this monster,” Weinstein lamented.
There is, at least, hope on the horizon for some who were affected. Maryann Rolle, who lost $50,000 worth of savings paying out of pocket to those who worked under her when McFarland left her holding the bag. A Go Fund Me, promoted by the Executive Producer of the documentary, has so far raised over $150,000 to help repay what was lost.
In the tales of schadenfraude, we can learn a lot from Fyre Festival. Dashcon. Universal Fancon. In the wake of these failed events, real people are affected. Not just attendees and guests, but people who are just trying to make a living, doing what they love.
This doesn’t just happen at music festivals. It was also the sad reality for those merchants trying to set up for Universal Fancon when they got the notice that the convention would be cancelled. There were no answers, and there was no money.
We have to start seeing the signs in our own communities for when things are going south, and then we have to get the word out. In this age of communication, there is no excuse for letting things go bad up to the event itself- or even the week before.