Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media, with each month tending to focus on a particular theme. For the final week of June, July, and August, we will be covering documentaries shot at music festivals!
When we think of iconic music festivals over the past few years, our minds are often taken to a handful of memorable performances. Beyoncé’s 2018 performance at Coachella, Chance the Rapper at Lollapalooza in 2017, and a litany of Glastonbury headliners come to mind. Alongside these gigs, one festival that was a defining fixture of this era didn’t even get to stage its opening act. Fyre Festival had already gained internet infamy when a Netflix documentary centred around it was released. Many details had filtered out during the time – the infamous image of the sandwich, the atrocious facilities – what we lacked however was a real insight into the founding of the festival, just what exactly had gone wrong at an organisational level. How had this been allowed to happen?
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is by no means a revolutionary documentary. It challenges no conventions of the medium, it does not boldly go where no doc has gone before. What it does do, whether it wants to or not, is explore how many of these stories that gain net notoriety can be treacherous stories to navigate. The film uses archive footage of the organisers of Fyre Festival, as well as interviews with some of those people, and the people from Great Exuma and the surrounding islands who had been employed to work on the festival. It becomes clear early on that the film is focused on the meme ready aspects of the story. There is no serious interrogation into the treatment of the workers on Great Exuma
, what happened to them is seen as wrong, but it is no more than a footnote to a funny story.
The problem with this setup is that the memeification of Fyre Festival had begun years before the documentary, and the very limited amount of new information that the documentary presented us led to a film that had really only one new and defining piece of information. That being that Andy King, a man who worked on the organisation of Fyre Festival, was prepared to perform sex acts for the good of the festival. This, while being funny if not slightly uncomfortable, was perhaps the only iconic moment from a documentary that set out to explore one of the most iconic music festivals of the past decade, the one that never happened.
Netflix’s Fyre documentary, on the merit of what it attempts to show us, is not really to be considered a top documentary, a Top Doc if you will. However, the film holds some value when we look at it from a different perspective. The documentary shows the fragility of some stories, and helps us as viewers realise that the real cultural impact of Fyre Festival was the shockwaves it sent out online, becoming shorthand for any institutional failure. Fyre is a brilliant example of how the internet can allow for the ghosts of cultural events like Fyre to live on without the need for films like this, that offer such a shallow insight into its subject matter. To put it bluntly, Fyre is a documentary at its best when arguing against its own existence.
Header image courtesy of Netflix