Blogger Calls 911 Over Guy Using Cell Phone At Toronto Film Festival Screening, Hilarity Ensues

During a screening of horror film The Sacrament, the real horror was the use of mobile telephones. posted on

TORONTO — One of the more impossible debates in the world of commercial cinema is how to deal with cell phones in movie theaters. Cinephiles, purists, and the Alamo Drafthouse Theater chain say ban them completely, and yet more casual moviegoers and busy humans continue to whip out the iPhones and Androids as the picture rolls. Man versus technology, the past versus the future, art versus commerce: this dilemma has it all. But will there ever be a resolution?

One vigilante at the Toronto International Film Festival decided to take the situation into his own hands… and that of the police.

Alex Billington, the proprietor of the movie blog Firstshowing.net, was particularly aggrieved by an audience member using his cell phone during a Press and Industry screening of director Ti West’s horror flick The Sacrament on Monday, leaving the theater and dialing 911 to report the offender. Cell phones are often used during these screenings, with industry members ducking in and out of different movies for appointments and other matters, and Billington had had enough of the scourge of little lights interrupting his viewing.

After dealing with the police and festival higher-ups, he took to Twitter to explain the situation and lead a charge against the second screen menace.

Arguing with theater manages that tell me that cell phones are allowed in theater while guy in FRONT ROW has it on the whole time. WTF #TIFF

4. (He apparently deleted the original 911 tweet.)

Alex's last trip to #TIFF MT @firstshowing I literally just called 911 & reported piracy to the police. This has been elevated to max.

Hi @Ti_West I'm trying to watch your film but guy in front row keeps using phone and theater tells me he is allowed. Ruining the experience.

Just told by TIFF that industry have the RIGHT to blatantly use phones in the film. They will 'take my complaints' but nothing can be done.

They also claim that I am the only one who has ever complained about cell phone use at TIFF. So it's now a major campaign to take action.

I was afraid this would reach a head and this is it. They claim nothing can be done to 'change the policy' in 2013 because it's allowed.

I cannot believe that TIFF is allowing this disregard for the integrity of cinema and letting disgusting industry ruin experiences. #TIFF13

10. Not that they cared.

The theater managers claim he was 'watching the film' (while using his phone) and that I was disrupting because I complained. So sad. #TIFF

@refocusedmedia They told me @cameron_tiff would be briefed but that I could not arrange time with him during this festival.

13. Some of Billington’s blogger friends got in on the act, too.

Stunned by the number of people on their phones during press screening of ENEMY. Every single one should lose their badge #tiff13

It's good to see some bloggers like @firstshowing and @colliderfrosty stand up for people who love the theater going experience.

If it really is @TIFF_net's policy that phone use during press/industry screenings is OK, then I really will never go to TIFF again.

16. Then again, not everyone was on his side.

911 is for emergencies, you embarrassingly unprofessional attention-starved stooge. cc @firstshowing

@firstshowing dude, I agree they shouldn't be on their phones but 911 is for serious emergencies only. Go talk to TIFF officials after.

Uh, if you call 911 because someone in a screening is looking at his phone, they should send an ambulance. To take YOU to the insane asylum.

On jackass meter: conspicuously using phone during a movie < distracting a 911 operator who should be dealing with life & death emergencies.

20. Like all great revolutionaries, however, Billington is undaunted by criticism.

I'm trying to make a difference for the better, if that's so grating I'm sorry. Changes need to be made and drastic measures are called for.

21. (This is a Steve Jobs quote.)

"You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things."

23. UPDATE: Billington emailed BuzzFeed to explain the 911 call:


The man in the front row had his phone out pointed towards the screen for the first 10 minutes. I complained once to the theater managers, who looked and said there was no one with their phone on. I returned, and 5 minutes later he had his phone out again in front of him, pointed towards the screen. I thought I might be witnessing an act of piracy, a major crime being committed, and wished to report it to the proper authorities.

The call made was to report an act of piracy in progress, a major crime that many signs around TIFF remind people is a punishable offense. I simply requested that an officer confront and confirm that he was not pirating. Another 10 minutes later, a venue manager intercepted the report and responded claiming he was only texting, and subsequently stated he had the right to use his phone in this screening. My complaints at that time, based on their response, turned to the policy of TIFF and allowing phones to be used.

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