Movie Review: Fyre

Ahh, the Instagram lifestyle… perfect complexions, exotic locations, beautiful bodies, limitless wardrobes, expensive accessories and jet-setting adventures. Taking the perfect shot and dressing it up or down to present an illusionary highlights reel has become an art form – just ask the Russian company that leases a stationary private jet for photo shoots. The popular social media platform has raised the bar, glorifying superficial colour, shape, symmetry and qualities that resonate with living the picture perfect dream. Never before has the image been worshiped so much, proliferated by the Internet and saturated to the point that you’re almost always within reach of a camera lens. We’re constantly being monitored, inhibited or dared by the chance of becoming the next viral joke video or social media witch hunt.

Well, for tech entrepreneur, Billy McFarland, he’s experienced the best and worst of both worlds. A young go-getter, McFarland’s been ramping up from one promising start up to the next. Watching this documentary had a strange personal significance, since I’ve loosely followed the career of McFarland and his many enterprises since he beat me to buying Spling.com over a decade ago. This was before it transformed into Spling, one of his first start ups, before moving on to the exclusive Magnises card. A charming, confident and headstrong leader, the young man has a magnetic ability to create appealing content, lure investors and generate funding. While he knows how to look the part, he’s become the epitome of “fake it till you make it”, following his infamous Fyre venture, an uber exclusive music festival, which was set to feature top acts and be staged in the Bahamas.

This documentary unpacks the disastrous event, starting with the idea to promote a high profile celebrity booking platform co-founded by Ja Rule, the initial marketing splurge and the subsequent string of failures and attempts to salvage the festival. A warning about blindly trusting a cocky businessmen, it also serves as an overdue exploration of the power of digital, from false advertising to fraud and the dangerous power of wielding sponsored “personal” endorsements.

“Get Fyred up!”

From being punted as the ultimate party by hundreds of influencers across the globe, this island paradise event for wealthy kids was turned upside down, following a number of broken promises, over-ambitious ticket offers and naive event management planning.

With festival goers buying music festival experiences for thousands of dollars, loading festival credit card passes with even more and expecting the experience of a lifetime, it was anything but… with organisers not giving themselves enough time. Primed to see Blink 182, Migos and Major Lazer, the exotic pipedream degenerated into something akin to a natural disaster relief project instead of the high-profile music festival it promised to be.

The notorious McFarland became the poster boy and fall guy for yet another tech start-up failure, his empire crumbling around him after making false projections. The Fyre documentary unpacks this degeneration, becoming acquainted with the kingpin, the lies and the backlash across social media, resulting in a class-action lawsuit and many question marks around the man who was heralded as a genius or a mad man by peers. Something of an ethical thriller, concertgoer footage, social media screenshots and a wide array of key figures from both sides of the event are interviewed to piece together a provocative, startling and thought-provoking documentary with a dollop of schadenfreude.

While director Chris Smith didn’t manage to get an actual interview with McFarland himself after the subject reportedly offered an interview in exchange for payment, they’ve done their homework piecing together the elusive blueprint for success and contrasting it with the eventual PR nightmare for all associated. From festival labourers to business partners to celebrities and ticket buyers, Fyre attempts to get a handle on what went down and what we can learn from the cataclysmic marketing exercise going forward.

Currently one of two recent documentaries on the doomed Fyre Festival, it’s a wild ride moving from surreal bikini-clad models and private jets to a much grittier and subversive reality. Ethics, service delivery, marketing… Fyre is a candid indictment on hype, honour and honesty in the modern age.

The bottom line: Devastating

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