In 2017, Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule promoted what was promising to be an expensive but highly attended music festival called Fyre. After promising patrons would be given luxury suites and hob knob with models and music stars, news broke when festival goers met with less than accommodating conditions. Chaos would soon ensue as lives were put at risk and public safety became a major concern spawning one of the biggest scandals of the year. The Fyre festival debacle was an event that was begging to be turned in to a film and director Chris Smith chronicles the creation of what promised to be one of the most elite and luxurious music festivals.
Director Chris Smith explores the origins of the festival, the back story of Fyre founder Billy McFarland and how he managed to gain the support and partnership of rapper Ja Rule, who also hoped to found this kind of Fantasy Island experience. Along the way there’s a ton of exploration in to how McFarland fed in to America’s obsession with wealth and beauty, and how Fyre thrived on promising to turn its patrons in to celebrities, if even for a moment. McFarland and Ja Rule spent so much of their time hyping up this festival that offered a larger experience with the elite and there is something so evidently slimy in their approach.
Though Smith never quite pinpoints it, McFarland and Ja Rule are viewed so much as con men who sold this idea of an experience and pretty much passed the blame on to other people, in the end. There’s so much more insight in to the production and construction of Fyre that we didn’t get in all of the news reports and it’s unusual how much of the illusion was sold. There’s looks at how very popular super models were flown out to the islands to help promote the festival, and how McFarland and Ja Rule were very hell bent on getting everyone that partook in the promotion to create an artificial buzz about what was unfolding. Whether it was all a ruse to take money, or create some sense of relevance for its benefactors is never quite clear.
How much of the fallout from the fiasco is handled is quite suspect, especially in certain instances with Ja Rule’s evasiveness in admitting to fault. Audiences also get an insight in to the conditions of the island, and how it became a genuine fight for life in one instance. Smith delves in to how patrons fought over basic luxuries like mattresses, and spent literal weeks trying to fly back to America. What was the Fyre Festival? Apparently the stuff that dreams were made of; it promised to be the new Coachella, except with a lot more rich yuppies with a ton of disposable income. “Fyre” is a fascinating, entertaining look at a classic PR and human rights disaster, it’s also an indictment on America and how it rose to fame because it fed in to the American obsession with wealth and beauty, and imploded thanks to lack of basic education of business, and organization.
Premiering Globally on Netflix and screening in NY & LA Theaters January 18th.