Hulu and Netflix release competing documentaries on failed Fyre Festival

Hulu released its comedic documentary four days earlier than Netflix’s behind-the-scenes deep dive.

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Streaming giants Hulu and Netflix each released documentaries on the failed Fyre Festival during the week of Jan. 14. While they cover the same event, the films take different approaches in tone.

Fyre Festival, initially scheduled for April and May of 2017, was intended to be a once-in-a-lifetime music festival hosted on the Great Exuma island in the Bahamas. The brainchild of entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, Fyre Festival was designed to promote the newly launched Fyre music booking app.

Complete with promises of bright blue waters, yachts, beautiful women and plenty of alcohol on a deserted island, Billboard senior touring correspondent Dave Brooks felt that the Fyre Festival sold a concept of escapism in a climate of discontent and political upheaval.

“You’re in Lower Manhattan where you’re freezing,” Brooks said in the Hulu documentary. “You’ve got an election that just upended the political environment. The thing that you’re absolutely focused on is escaping from that. So people are dying to be a part of something that was going to be the Woodstock of the millennial generation.”

Due to infrastructure issues, a massive lack of oversight, blind faith and a lapse between planning and execution, Fyre Festival was never completed in time for the arrival of the influencers and attendees. Guests boarded planes expecting luxury villas and private celebrity chefs.

They were instead treated to leftover FEMA disaster tents from Hurricane Matthew, soaked mattresses from island rain and cheese sandwiches in styrofoam containers.

As the festival preparation was revealed to be surrounded in fraudulent procedures and loans, McFarland was sentenced to jail for six years for wire fraud to investors.

About nine months after the incident, documentaries dropped exploring the phenomenon. Netflix planned their release of “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” for Friday, Jan. 18, promoting it with a trailer dropped on Jan. 10.

In a surprise move from Hulu, the platform released “Fyre Fraud,” their own take on Fyre Festival coverage. The drop occurred on Monday, Jan. 14, four days prior to the Netflix release. The film was not preceded with any promotion or advertising, effectively beating Netflix to the punch.

The two films take very different approaches to covering the event. Netflix describes their film as a documentary covering a festival “billed as a luxury music experience on a posh private island” that “failed in the hands of a cocky entrepreneur.”

Hulu’s film takes a different route. While still considering it a documentary, Hulu feels their approach reflects a “true-crime comedy exploring a failed music festival turned internet meme at the nexus of social media influence, late-stage capitalism and morality in the post-truth era.”

Netflix’s documentary places a general focus on providing “an exclusive behind the scenes look at the infamous unraveling of the Fyre music festival,” operating with a general focus on the logistics and details of what brought the festival into being. Receipts, emails, court proceedings and financial documents are displayed consistently throughout the film, giving information on how the little pieces came together. The film features interviews with people at every level of involvement, including pilots, managers and Bahamian workers.

Netflix’s feature of the involvement of the locals stood out in particular to the general public. Following the departure of Fyre guests, McFarland disappeared from the island, leaving local workers without pay for their work onsite.

One testimony in particular, that of Maryann Rolle, garnered public support. In tears, Rolle spoke to the camera about her own experience taking in festivalgoers when they arrived unexpectedly at her restaurant, the Exuma Point Bar & Grill.

“I had 10 persons working directly with me just preparing food all day and all night, 24 hours,” Rolle said. “I had to pay literally all those people. I am here as a Bahamian. And they stand in my face every day. I went through about $50,000 of my savings that I could’ve had for a rainy day. They just wiped it out and never looked back.”

Rolle set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to earn back some of the savings she blew through when attempting to accommodate attendees. As of Jan. 22, over $160,000 has been raised for Rolle.

Hulu took a different approach to the documentary, transforming it into a cinematic, comedic experience. Cartoon stock footage and clips from shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians were used to place emphasis on the psychology at play. For dramatic effect, ominous music and exaggerated storm footage accompanied the description of the final storm.

Psychologists, venture capitalists and media writers were brought in to discuss why Fyre Festival garnered so much attention and interest. Calvin Wells, venture capitalist and owner of the Twitter account FyreFestivalFraud, weighed in on the FOMO phenomenon, or the fear of missing out, and its power.

“But certainly, our generation loves to be a part of the hype,” Wells said. “We identify ourselves with what we’re attached to or who’s involved or who follows us or who likes us or who comments. ‘Do I have a blue checkmark? Am I trending at the right events?’... You see what everyone else is doing, and the fact that you’re not there creates this fear that you’re less of an individual.”

Interviews were also conducted with those close to the festival, often making light of the situation. Interviewees drew comparisons between McFarland’s life to popular sitcoms “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” likening McFarland to eccentric boss Michael Scott and Fyre Media to Tom Haverford’s Entertainment 720.

With the element of surprise giving an advantage over Netflix’s release, Hulu’s documentary had the key element of an exclusive interview with McFarland. McFarland’s take post-failure was revealed to be rather optimistic, believing that “so many things had to go right to make it this big of a failure.”

The combination of both documentaries provides the public with multiple ways to access more information on the failure of Fyre Festival, as well as some insight to larger effects and hidden causes.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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