For many documentaries, a news development can provide a crucial boost, especially if it comes as a film is about to hit theaters.
But sometimes current events can cut the other way, casting an unexpectedly tragic shadow over a film.
That’s shaping up to be the case for “Under the Electric Sky,” a new 3-D movie from “Project Runway” creators Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz about the Electric Daisy Carnival music festival, which held its most recent incarnation in Las Vegas over the weekend — and whose release from Focus Features takes on a vastly different tint in the wake of a death at this year’s event.
The film examines, with a decidedly celebratory tone, the massively popular EDM-themed extravaganza, which over its three-day run now draws an estimated 400,000 attendees who come to dance, hang out and watch the splashy pyrotechnics across a massive fairgrounds. There’s an intensive subcultural aspect to the festival, with a culture of beads and other forms of currency that may be bemusing to outsiders but is deeply felt by the characters documented in the film.
Insomniac Entertainment, which stages the event (and which cooperated on the film), comes off as a benign, even noble presence, staging an event that brings happiness to many.
But this year’s EDC was marred by the death of 24-year-old attendee Montgomery Tsang early Saturday morning. Tsang's death, the cause of which is under investigation, comes less than a week before "Electric Sky" is set to open in theaters, and the prospect of a feelgood movie about EDC arriving in theaters just days after a death there is, at the very least, highly awkward.
A spokesperson for "Electric Sky" told The Times that the film will proceed with its planned theatrical release, opening in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Las Vegas on Friday and expanding in the coming weeks. He said Cutforth and Lipsitz were unavailable.
But the road ahead won’t be smooth, since it’s impossible to watch the film without thinking of last weekend’s tragedy.
Making matters even more tricky: The film glides past some of the harder questions Insomniac and EDC has faced in recent years, covering the subject of MDMA use at the event in just a few minutes and spotlighting a medical facility as being a key, and effective, cog in ensuring the safety of the event.
In reality, Insomniac has faced far greater criticism in recent years over its spotty safety record. In 2010, a 15-year-old girl died of an ecstasy overdose at the event in Los Angeles, which ultimately led to the move to Las Vegas. Two more people died at the event there in 2012; each were ruled to be drug-related.
At the film’s Sundance premiere in January, Insomniac chief Pasquale Rotella downplayed the issue of illicit substances at the festival, saying that “it's not any different than a rock 'n' roll show or a jam band show."
In recent years, scripted features such as “Gangster Squad” and the summer comedy “The Watch” were thrust in an awkward position after their plot lines echoed real-world fatalities that occurred after they were made. But while those instances were mainly matters of bad coincidence, drug-related deaths have dogged EDC since well before the movie began shooting.
It may well be that dedicated fans will look to relive the excitement may well turn out to see "Electric Sky" in theaters. Yet it will be hard for many to watch the movie without asking the questions raised by the news stories — and left unexplored by the film.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times