Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
16 January 2019updated 03 Aug 2021 11:41am

Fyre: a dread-inducing documentary of a festival gone wrong

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.  

By Anna Leszkiewicz

In April 2017, the world watched with righteous glee as a music festival for the super-rich in the Bahamas collapsed into chaos. Thousands bought tickets to Fyre Festival expecting a glamorous, weekend-long party with supermodels; instead, they faced something closer to 24 hours in a disaster zone. The internet delighted in footage of wealthy young Americans trapped on site, fighting over soggy mattresses and sad cheese sandwiches.

But Netflix’s new documentary about this catastrophic screw-up derives its pleasure from elsewhere. Instead of mocking the footage of stranded attention-seekers that you got a good glimpse of nearly two years ago, it scrupulously examines how a mess of this magnitude came to be through candid interviews with its organisers. The first hour of the 90-minute film chronicles the delusional, reckless and fradulent behaviour of organiser Billy McFarland and the growing panic of his seemingly mostly competent staff, as the days left before the big event persistently tick away. More thriller than schadenfreude-laced comedy, I watched Fyre with squirming dread. Knowing what’s coming only raises the suspense.

Fyre doesn’t blame overprivileged guests for wasting their money in the hunt for glossy Instagrams, but doesn’t reserve sympathy for them either. Instead, it identifies the real victims as the Bahamians whose lives were upended by the arrogance of the project, spending long days labouring on the festival site, only to never get paid. Though McFarland has been sentenced to six years in prison, footage of him enjoying a luxury penthouse lifestyle while on bail, and his acquaintances’ insistence of his ability to bounce back, leaves you with a grim sense that rich criminals will always thrive, while their disadvantaged victims struggle. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A weekly round-up of The New Statesman's climate, environment and sustainability content. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

This article appears in the 16 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit trapped Britain