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The battle between the Fyre Festival documentaries
February 2, 2019
The beginning of 2019 saw an odd move on the part of the streaming service, Hulu. As the much anticipated Netflix-produced documentary on the infamous Fyre fest, aptly titled Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, was drawing closer to its Jan. 18 release, Hulu decided to push their own Fyre festival documentary, called Fyre Fraud, to be released four days before their competitors.
In the span of a few days, the streaming public was given two documentaries on the same subject. It is an apparent attempt by Hulu to cash in on the hype surrounding the Netflix-produced documentary. Often times, competition breeds excellent content. That is not the case here. Both of these documentaries are vastly different regarding content, quality and filmic expertise.
Fyre Fraud released on Jan. 14 and was directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason. The documentary’s main draw is its interview with the head of the festival, Billy McFarland. While that is the main pull of the film, it is hardly in the film. Actually, the film is hardly about Fyre Fest at all. The information given about the festival is no more than one can get on Wikipedia. It focuses more on social media, millennials and Instagram influencers. While all three of those are vastly essential to understand Fyre Festival, the film dwells on them for way too long. Even with its focus more on those three subjects, Fyre Fraud tries to be a documentary about the festival proper. It fails greatly. The outcome is a jumbled, unorganized mess of failure and genius. However, the interview with McFarland is impressive. The directors did not opt for the classic style of documentary interviews. They allow the camera to remain on McFarland before, during and after questions were asked. The heavy blinking, stuttered speech and multiple fits of rage tell more about McFarland than any answers he could give.
The social media section of the film is excellent on its own. It bogs down the film but has merit if looked at separately. The editing is terrible. It is not focused one bit, and it is filled with unneeded memes, viral videos and stock footage. Fyre Fraud is two rushed documentaries crammed into one messy, but intriguing, package.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, directed by Chris Smith, is a very basic film. That does not mean it is terrible. It is without gimmicks and packs a metric ton of information into its just over ninety-minute run time. If information about the festival is what one desires, Fyre is the film to watch. The film is beautiful, but it is nothing more than B-roll and found footage stitched together with decent editing. The film is not trying to be high art. There is nothing to distract the view from the story being told.
Unlike Fyre Fraud, McFarland does not appear. Fyre focuses on the influencers that promoted the festival, the workers who tried to make it happen and the people that unfortunately went to the festival. The beauty of the film is its flow. Rather than take various subjects in chunks like Fyre Fraud, it introduces them organically with the timeline of events.
Other than that, Fyre is as basic as they come. It is more of an extended news story from a place like CNN than artistic expression. Usually, that would be an absolute negative, but not here. The insanity of the story is all Smith needs to draw viewers in, and he refuses to distract them from the story. It is a subtle film driven by a bombastic story.
Fyre is indeed the better of the two if held only to its telling of the events of the festival. Frye Fraud is more interesting, though. The different stylings of the two directors are apparent throughout. The film exudes a rush for time. The interviews with McFarland were the best thing in either of the documentaries, but they are included few and far between. Where Fyre is a film with no frills and clear direction, Fyre Fraud is too stylized, and its direction is opaque. Fyre presented a better view of the events but did nothing daring. Fyre Fraud mimics the chaos of the festival it is covering, even if it does so unintentionally.
It is hard to recommend one of these films over the other with any certainty. Casual viewers will probably much prefer Fyre. Fans of the genre of documentaries will probably be more interested in Fyre Fraud due to it walking the line of amazing and terrible. If one is on the fence about which to choose, Fyre is the one to go with, as it actually tells a cohesive story.
Both are the best answer to the question, though. Fyre tells the story in a superior manner and really gets down to the nitty-gritty of the festival. Fyre Fraud tells the story of why rushing such a film can have drastic consequences along with the fantastic McFarland interview. Together, these films reveal a different story. They show how chasing a popular story for monetary gain and to outperform a competitor can produce two extremely different films that widely vary in quality.