We Watched Both Netflix And Hulu's Fyre Fest Documentaries — Here's Why You Should Too

Rapper Ja Rule and Billy McFarland in a scene from the Netflix documentary Fyre. (Netflix)

By Monica Bushman & John Horn

If you've heard anything about the much-hyped 2017 Fyre Festival, you'll know that it was a massive failure. Luxury accommodations turned out to instead be disaster-relief tents, the gourmet cuisine was anything but, and the all-star musical lineup (including acts like Major Lazer and Migos) never took the stage.

Now two documentaries are trying to explain how everything went so horribly wrong — the Netflix documentary Fyre, in limited theaters and on Netflix today, and the Hulu documentary Fyre Fraud, which dropped as a surprise release on Monday.

WHAT WAS FYRE FESTIVAL?

Creators Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule sold Fyre as the most luxurious music festival of all time. The glitzy, supermodel-packed promotional video promised first-class travel to a private island once owned by Pablo Escobar.

"The actual experience exceeds all expectations," the disembodied voice in the video intoned. "All these things that may seem big and impossible are not."

They were.

The reality, as hundreds of festival-goers would find out when they arrived in the Bahamas, couldn't have been further from their expectations. While the failure sparked a wave of memes and late-night jokes, there was serious fallout.

Billy McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison for defrauding investors and starting a separate ticket-selling scam while he was out on bail. Ja Rule was named as a co-defendant in separate lawsuits filed by festival-goers, some of which are still pending.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH BOTH DOCUMENTARIES

Both documentaries come with caveats. The Hulu documentary, co-written and co-directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, includes an interview with Billy McFarland, which he was reportedly paid for. The Netflix documentary, written and directed by Chris Smith, was produced in partnership with two companies — Matte Projects and Jerry Media — that marketed the Fyre Festival and promoted it on social media.

Still, we recommend you watch both to get the fullest picture of what went down. They both arrive at largely the same conclusions about McFarland, include a few of the same interviewees — and even end on an eerily similar final scene. But here's what you need to know about what sets them apart:

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Netflix)

  • Fyre includes amazing behind-the-scenes footage (provided by Matte Projects and Jerry Media) of the planning stages of the festival, from the promo video shoot to the disastrous day-of. It also includes some incredible video footage of McFarland (recorded at his request) as he set up a separate ticket-selling scam while out on bail.
  • Fyre gives you a better sense of the impact of the festival's failure on the local Bahamian community. In one particularly harrowing interview, a woman named Maryann Rolle, who provided food for the laborers who were working on the festival site, explains that she was never paid back for $50,000 of her own money that she used to pay her employees.
  • There's no interview with Billy McFarland in Fyre. Writer/director Chris Smith told KPCC's The Frame that he was in talks with McFarland about an interview and was supposed to film with him on two different occasions. "But in the end," Smith said, "it came down to the fact that Billy wanted to get paid. And we didn't feel comfortable with him benefitting after so many people were hurt based on his actions."

Fyre Fraud (Hulu)

  • Fyre Fraud paints a much more critical view of Jerry Media's involvement in promoting the festival. The filmmakers explicitly call out the company's connection with the Netflix documentary and strongly imply that they are guilty too for continuing to promote the festival on social media when it began to look like it would not come off as promised.
  • The Hulu movie includes a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes footage as well, but seems to have a different aim in mind — using the Fyre Festival to tell a larger cautionary tale about scam artists, the challenges facing millennials, the role of social media influencers, and the current state of American culture.
  • Fyre Fraud's interview with McFarland isn't terribly illuminating, but provides more insight into who Billy McFarland was before Fyre. Gratifyingly, the filmmakers don't go easy on him — in one memorable sequence, they highlight several lies he's told throughout the course of the interview.