Is Cell Phone Use Becoming a Major Problem at Film Festivals?

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As most moviegoers know, it’s becoming harder and harder to go to the theatre and watch a movie without some moron beside you whipping out their cell phone and disrupting the experience. You’d think that film festivals would be one of the few places to take the issue seriously as not only should they be catering to hardcore cinephiles but they also want to show respect to the filmmakers and prevent piracy. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is often true and this week the Toronto International Film Festival is coming under fire for their lax approach to cell phone use. Yesterday, Alex Billington of FirstShowing.net reportedly called 911 in a fit of rage due to the distractions surrounding him at a press screening. While this was obviously an insane response, the issue is suddenly getting a lot of attention.

According to reports, Billington first approached a theatre manager to complain about the amount of texting and e-mailing happening at a press screening for Ti West’s The Sacrament. He was told that industry folks have the right to use their phones during these specific screenings and that he should go to a public screening instead. He then proceeded to call 911 in an attempt to report potential piracy, but the operator apparently laughed in his face.

While in some ways it’s hard to feel sorry for members of the press who are seeing these movies for free, I have to admit that the public screenings can be pretty bad too. It also makes you wonder how much attention critics are paying to the movies that they are supposed to be reviewing. Some will no doubt see this as yet another example of how the festival is catering more to the industry folks than the average moviegoer but I guess it’s to be expected at this point. What do you think, should cell phone use be allowed at film festivals? Is TIFF alienating film fans with their lack of attention to this matter?

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  • uhgh… I’ll be going to Philadelphia Film Festival next month, and no doubt movies will be ruined. Maybe they should introduce “cell phone aisles”, as in, the two rows or so all the way in the back. If I can’t see the light, I won’t care.

  • Lori Cerny

    Great idea! I already base my theater-going decision on what type of audience the film will draw. I also sit within the first five rows and on the side to avoid seeing others, though that defeats the purpose of seeing some films for the crowd reaction.

  • kb

    I call for merchandise: printable Film-Junk-Code-of-Conduct-Cards (listing most annoying transgressions against cinematic decorum, as a handy hand-out to the offending cretin, to avoid having to engage in equally annoying and disruptive shushing noises or similar less peaceful coercion…)

  • kent88

    Hah, Alex Billington is such a doofus.

  • Thanks! I can’t stand sitting up front, but do try to take aisle seats sometimes… 50% of your area unavailable for annoying people.

  • Goldie_Hawn_Golden_Shower

    A punch to the face will stop anyone from texting on their phones.

  • Isildur_of_Numenor

    His reaction was probably extreme but maybe that’s what is needed to make a change.

  • piggystardust

    I’ve never been to a film festival, but I always assumed that would be the one place where you’d find true film lovers who wouldn’t be messing around on their phones. Pretty disappointing.

  • piggystardust

    Even more stupid than calling 911.

  • ProCynic

    I’m 50 years old, and as THE PRO CYNIC I think this is unfortunately the shape of things to come. People just don’t give a fuck anymore, self self self is the order of the day. Now where is that razor blade/bag of pills.

  • Wayne Regier

    Yup!

  • Goldie_Hawn_Golden_Shower

    But don’t you want a quiet movie theater going experience? I thought you were against the texters??? We’re not on the same side? I thought we were in this together bro?

  • Lior

    Distractions are definitely a bigger issue in press screenings when it comes to TIFF. I held an industry pass a couple of years ago and I attended quite a few screenings where there was rampant texting going on, and also people coming and going before screenings ended or after they already began. It did not prompt me to dial 911 but I was somewhat disappointed. I guess industry/press folks are rather busy…? I mean, it’s work for most of them. I can tell you that when it comes to public screenings at TIFF the situation is much better. Regular folks pay lots of money for these shows and are usually more well-behaved (except for that tedious pirate roar… enough already). Also TIFF draws higher percentage of movie lovers instead of the weekend multiplex crowds. If you see someone texting in a public showing it’s probably a film critic who missed the press screening…:-)

  • DrewNugent

    To be honest I think people need to just get over it. If people are talking and being obnoxious that’s one thing but it would probably be better to just do yourself a favor and ignore people who text because thats the times we live in and its not going to stop.

  • Wintle

    My TIFF screenings are mostly phone-free, though that may be because most of them are introduced by Colin Geddes and he makes a point to warn people that they’ll get kicked in the head if they use their phones.

    The usher at the Under The Skin screening the other night wasn’t taking any shit, either. More ushers!