By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — The experiences of panicked spectators who couldn’t breathe and had no clear path to escape massive crowds at last year’s deadly Houston Astroworld music festival are featured in a documentary released Friday.
But lawyers for Live Nation, which is being sued for its role as promoter of the festival, say they fear publicity for the documentary “Concert Crush: The Travis Scott Festival Tragedy” could “taint the jury”. A gag order has been issued in the case, but lawyers for Live Nation say a lawyer who filed lawsuits related to the tragedy also co-produced the documentary. A spokesperson for Scott, who is also being sued, was also critical.
Director Charlie Minn said he felt he made a balanced and fair film that tries to show audiences what happened.
“My job is to make the most truthful, honest and sincere documentary from the victim’s point of view. … We need to be aware of these stories to prevent this from happening again,” Minn told The Associated Press.
About 500 lawsuits have been filed since the Nov. 5 gig with Scott, a popular rapper. Ten people died and hundreds more were injured in the massive crowds.
The documentary, broadcast in 11 cities in Texas, including Austin, Dallas and Houston, includes interviews with several people who survived. It also features cellphone video of bystanders in which people can be heard repeatedly screaming for help.
“It’s hard to explain to friends and family what we saw and what we actually experienced and I think (the documentary) will give a lot of people the opportunity, if you weren’t there, understand,” said Frank Alvarez, who attended the concert but did not appear in the film.
The film shines a light on what viewers went through and what led to the tragedy, said Minn, who has also made documentaries about the fatal 2018 shooting at a suburban Houston high school and the violence along of the US-Mexico border.
The film suggests Scott could have done more to prevent the conditions that led to the victims, but Minn said it was not a “hit hit on Travis Scott.” He said it also questions whether others, including Live Nation and Houston police, could have done more to improve security or respond more quickly. Minn said Scott, Live Nation and Houston police declined to be interviewed for the documentary. Houston police are investigating the disaster.
In a report released in April, a task force created by Texas Governor Greg Abbott found permit issues for such events and called for “clearly defined triggers” to stop such a spectacle.
Live Nation attorneys expressed their concerns in an April letter to District Judge Kristen Hawkins, who handles all pretrial matters in the prosecution.
“The involvement of plaintiffs’ attorneys in the film and the publicity the filmmakers and producers are trying to generate for it raises significant questions about efforts to taint the jury,” wrote Neal Manne and Kevin Yankowsky, two of the attorneys. from Live Nation. the letter.
But the lawyers did not ask Hawkins to take any specific action regarding the documentary.
Manne and Yankowsky did not respond to emails seeking comment. Live Nation said it was “heartbroken” by what happened, but denied responsibility.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Scott criticized the documentary’s findings “which wrongly blame Mr. Scott for the heartbreaking tragedy that occurred.” The statement also criticized the involvement in the film of lawyers who sued for the disaster and said the film’s purpose was “to influence future juries and public opinion”. The spokesperson did not know if Scott had seen the documentary.
“Mr. Scott remains focused on his philanthropic work in his hometown of Houston and in low-income communities of color across the country, both of which are long-standing efforts,” the spokesperson said in a statement. .
Cassandra Burke Robertson, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said she would be shocked if the judge took action on the documentary because of First Amendment concerns, even with the gag order.
“I think the interest of the public here in exploring what happened and avoiding similar tragedies in the future is a very high interest. It will probably outweigh the interests of the particular outcome of the trial. particular,” Robertson said.
Brent Coon, a lawyer representing around 1,500 viewers who was interviewed in the documentary, said he didn’t think the film would impact the ability to choose an impartial jury if the case went to trial, which could take years.
“I don’t think any lawyer in this case can fan the flames to change much … what the public perception of all of this will be,” Coon said.
Robertson, who is not involved in the litigation, said the fact that one of the film’s co-producers, Rick Ramos, is representing viewers who have filed lawsuits could raise ethical concerns.
Ramos declined to comment on Thursday. Andrea Gomez, a spokeswoman for Ramos, said in an email late Friday that all proceeds from the documentary will go to the Texas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental health organization that has helped those affected by the concert.
“I personally wouldn’t co-sponsor something like this during ongoing civil litigation. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. It’s just something I wouldn’t do,” Coon said.
Minn said the questions about Ramos’ involvement are valid but he has never hidden his involvement.
“People have to watch the movie and judge it for what it is,” Minn said.
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