In the history of cinema there have been numerous twin movies: movies that have come out at the same time that are about the same thing. Volcano and Dante’s Peak. Armageddon and Deep Impact. A Bug’s Life and Antz. And now, two dueling documentaries about the Fyre festival on Netflix and Hulu: Fyre directed by Chris Smith on Netflix, and Fyre Fraud directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason on Hulu. They both dropped this week, and I want to tell you about which one you should watch.
Let’s talk about what’s similar about both films. They are both enthralling retellings of all the components that went into the Fyre Festival. In fact, both of them cover many of the same story beats and even use the same footage at times. They’re both competently made and they each run about 90 minutes.
Fyre on Netflix is a better shot film. Aesthetically, it just looks more pleasing to the eye with nice use of lighting and skillful situating of interviewees in interesting and dynamic backgrounds. It does a better job capturing the moment-by-moment existential dread of the lead up to the festival, as well as how the planning all went wrong. Also, in my opinion, the quality of the b-roll and footage they got is more compelling, and some of it is extremely damning. There are moments in Fyre that will be talked about and meme-ified for years to come.
Fyre Fraud on Hulu casts its net much wider and tries to assess the culture of influencers and social media that led to something like Fyre Festival even taking place. A lot of it is interesting and great modern context for the festival, but I also found the Hulu documentary much more irritating stylistically. It often used a computer text-to-speech program to read important documents, plus a bunch of stock footage? It was very distracting and I think it took away from the storytelling.
Both documentaries are competent overall and they’re almost complementary in how they illuminate the facts behind this incident. They also each have some pretty serious ethical issues.
The Hulu documentary has an interview with serial entrepreneur and scam artist Billy MacFarland, the man who created the Fyre Festival. That said, it doesn’t hold back on portraying MacFarland as a scam artist. It delves deep into his other businesses and does a better job of explaining not only the depth of his deception, but also the societal circumstances that would allow him to pull of a fraud of this scale. Despite all that, the MacFarland interview itself is pretty useless. MacFarland is almost completely unapologetic, and there is pretty much no self-reflection going on there. If you want the interview as a way to confirm that his lying is indeed pathological, then the Hulu documentary will deliver that, but many of the shots of MacFarland are just of him sitting silently, looking awkwardly down at the floor, refusing to say anything.
The problem is, the filmmakers behind Fyre Fraud paid Billy MacFarland for his interview. Just how much he was paid has not been confirmed, but MacFarland claims it was $250,000. The filmmakers have stated that it was “much lower” than that but they have not shared what the actual number was. So when you’re watching the Hulu documentary, you are, in some small way, helping to enrich the guy who put on the Fyre Festival. And that feels pretty gross.
What’s clear from these movies is that there was a massive human cost to Fyre Festival, beyond just a bunch of millennials having a bad camping weekend. Investors were defrauded but the most heartbreaking thing is all the people who worked on the festival itself. Locals who spent time building the tents, as well as those who worked on the festival that tried to salvage the situation. The festival created a ton of human misery and to be in some way supporting the mastermind behind it doesn’t feel good.
But if that sounds bad, just wait! There’s more!
The Netflix documentary, Fyre, is co-produced by Vice and Jerry Media, the latter of which is a company that helped market the original festival. In that movie’s telling of the story, the people from Jerry Media, who sit for on-camera interviews, were duped by this con-man. They had no idea that the festival was going to be such a disaster, and when they were cashing those marketing checks and enticing people to fly to the festival, they were just doing their jobs. For a variety of reasons, some of which are covered in the Hulu documentary, this strains credulity.
More galling is the fact that at no point during the course of the entire documentary prior to the credits is it even disclosed that the subjects of the documentary are producers on the film. Jerry Media was even named as part of the class action lawsuit against the festival. The fact that the Netflix documentary omits details like this is honestly pretty insane and I’m shocked they aren’t catching more flack for it. It also makes you wonder what other facts they’re leaving out.
So, both movies are in some ways ethically compromised and if you really want to know which documentary to watch and still feel like a good person, the answer is probably neither of them. Don’t support anything about any of what’s going on in trying to market this grift to you. But if you have to watch one, watch the Netflix one. It’s a better film, and at least you’re not helping Billy MacFarland out in any way – just the marketing people who helped perpetrate one of the biggest disasters in music festival history.
Some more links from the week:
- In case you missed it: The /Filmcast had its 500th episode this past week. It’s one of my favorite episodes we’ve ever done, and I think it does a decent job at summing up my last 10 years of podcasting.
- For The Atlantic, McKay Coppins speculates that the only way for this government shutdown to end is in some cataclysmic disaster.
- Stephanie Zacharek reflects on her life without children and why she wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Conan O’Brien talks with The New York Times about the new format of his show and there’s a lot of zen fatalism going on here. Seems like he’s mellowed out quite a bit since The Late Night Wars of 2010.
- Ashley Feinberg, one of my favorite online journalists/personalities, has a damning interview with the CEO of Twitter. The answers provided are nothing new – it’s Feinberg’s refusal to accept vague platitudes as anything substantive that is (sadly) remarkable.
- For The Ringer, Adam Nayman has written an appreciation of Bruce Willis on the occasion of Glass’s opening weekend. This piece made me realize how much great, underappreciated work Willis has done over the years.
- Turns out opening a hotel staffed by robots wasn’t such a great idea after all. According to the WSJ, these machines malfunctioned, weren’t super functional in the first place, and created more work for humans.