Updated 8:45AM PST: I’ve been going to the Toronto International Film Festival for several years now (my absolute favorite festival I’ve ever attended), and each year I deal with the problem of cell phone in press & industry screenings (it’s allowed, apparently?). While the festival does nothing about it (industry folk need their phones to work during the movie, even though it’s the journalist’s job to pay close attention…), I personally have brought it to the attention of various festival heads on numerous occasions. The worst, though, is when a buyer decides to sit in the front row, lighting up the entire theater behind them. Some of these people come with extreme entitlement – in fact, one year I was threatened by a buyer (allegedly the same one who caused this stir) for nicely asking if he’d switch rows with me, so I could sit in front of him. Yup, this is a real problem.
One person tormented by the same issue is Alex Billington, founder of Firstshowing.net. Each year, the two of us sit in misery trying to find new ways to deal with the problem. This time, he got the last laugh (and I missed it!). His response has caused a major stir, partially because he called 911, instead of a emergency number…
Apparently, during a press & industry screening of Ti West’s presumably amazing The Sacrament, Billington called 911, stating that a selfish jerk using his cell phone was pirating the movie (I’m being told that Billington acknowledges that he should have called local police instead of 911, which is reserved for real emergencies – in any case, this was a bold decision). Slick move, brother! The call caused a huge disruption and has now caused a ripple through the press (with some focusing solely on Billington’s 911 call, instead of the issue of cell phones in theaters). Hopefully, this will bring some awareness to the festival that something needs to be done. (I personally have suggested that the festival allow the last two rows to be for industry; there they could use their phones all they want, without any distraction.)
Below are a few Tweets that got the ball rolling, but you can read both sides of the argument here. Clearly, Billington should not have been calling 911, which he acknowledges, but a local emergency number. Looking beyond the call, there is a serious problem here that needs to be addressed. If the Alamo Drafthouse can adopt a zero policy, why can’t a major festival, or even other theater chains? A source inside told me, “It’s just too dangerous for the volunteers.”
More inside. Tell us your thoughts below… READ MORE