Kerfuffle Watch: Blogger calls 911 over guy using cell phone in theater at TIFF

Press and industry screenings are places where business/producery types working on distribution deals for movies rub shoulders with bloggers/writers/journalists who cover those movies. Cell phone use during those screenings, usually by the former, who are busy doing deals and gun fingering each other, has traditionally annoyed the hell out of the latter, who see the movie-going process as having certain ironclad rules about talking and cell phone use. This conflict came to a head over the weekend at TIFF, when FirstShowing‘s Alex Billington took the to-my-knowledge unprecedented step of calling 911 to report a guy texting during Ti West’s The Sacrament. It was a masterstroke of insular drama-creation.

Billington explained the move in an email to Buzzfeed:

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.

He reports that the dispatcher laughed at him, which was probably the appropriate reaction.

Buzzfeed has a thorough-to-a-fault rundown of the cases for and against, and it’s basically the age-old does-complaining-about-someone-making-a-disturbance-create-an-even-greater-disturbance dilemma. It’s kind of a no-win situation. I’ll just say that I sympathize with Billington vis-a-vis people on their cell phones during a film screening. It doesn’t matter if it’s a press and industry screening or any other screening, you shouldn’t text during the movie. And if you can’t manage that, at least try to shield your screen and text non-distractingly. And if you can’t manage that, don’t go to screenings. The idea that a person would text throughout a movie and continue to do so even after people complain is an unfathomable level of assholery. And it’s only reinforcing the texter’s shitty entitled attitude if the theater and festival allow it.

That said, calling 911 to report someone texting during a movie at a film festival is just about the perfect illustration of why being referred to as “blogger” feels vaguely like a put down. I support taking a picture of the texter and publicly shaming him, like a subway masturbator.

But ideally, a theater would have an usher or manager available to quietly ask the texter, “Excuse me, sir? Would you put that away? Unless you’d like like to try texting with your own butt.”