FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)

<strong class="MovieTitle">FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened</strong> (2019)

(Netflix Streaming, January 2019) I’m not sure what’s most amazing: the resounding failure of the Fyre event, which touched upon the worst aspects of late-2010s culture, or the hoopla surrounding the making and releasing not only of documentary FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, but the duelling between this Netflix-distributed film and the competing Hulu-distributed Fyre Fraud. But let’s go back to the beginning: In late 2016, several “influencers” broke the announcement of a music festival with an idyllic tropical setting, top-rated artists and a luxurious atmosphere. Fyre, as the festival was named, lured unsuspecting attendees through overinflated claims that, upon reasonable analysis, had no chance of being met given the low ticket prices. Despite plenty of warning signs and critical commentary, attendees converged on the festival’s grounds in May 2017 to find that the event had been … well, something like cancelled but worse in that there were no events, bad accommodations, terrible food, unpaid workers yet no official cancellation. The resulting social media postings were the highlight of that week, fuelled by undisguised schadenfreude from many at seeing the influencer lifestyle blowing up in the attendee’s faces. Those are the facts that pretty much everyone agrees on. Now FYRE takes us inside the organization of the festival through interviews with some of the people involved in the failure. Perhaps the best aspect of the film, especially for those with a background in event planning or project management, is the horror show of seeing the event disintegrating well before it took place, as locations changed, promises couldn’t be kept and the gulf between the promises and the results grew wider and wider. If you’ve been involved in failed projects, there’s a familiar hollowness to the way it gets worse and worse, well past the point where any sane person would put an end to it all. A special mention goes to event planner Andy King for telling an astonishing story of what he was prepared to do in order for a relatively small part of the festival to come through—he got rewarded with short-lived meme infamy after the release of the documentary. Still, as fascinating and detailed as this story can be, FYRE does stop short of calling it fraud (despite ample evidence to the contrary) or seriously studying the role of social media influencers in the debacle. And that (thunderous music) is because you have to watch the credits in order to understand that the documentary is being produced by some of the people involved in the marketing of the Fyre festival. Of course, it wasn’t a fraud. Of course, the blame wasn’t on the shoulders of the social media people who convinced so many people that Fyre was worth attending despite the critical reaction to their announcement. For that story, you have to watch Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, which is both more morally dubious in its production (by paying Fyre founder and convicted fraudster Billy McFarland for an interview) yet a bit more honest on-screen in calling a fraud a fraud. But of course, considering the post-truth environment that led to the current American administration, a dishonest documentary seems entirely appropriate at this moment.

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