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16 January 2019

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. 

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