The latest battle in the theater etiquette wars went down Monday in Toronto — of all places, in a Press & Industry screening that pitted press vs. the fest and ended in a call to 911. Shortly after the P&I screening of Ti West’s new thriller The Sacrament began, FirstShowing.net blogger Alex Billington made numerous complaints to festival reps that a patron in the first row was holding a cell phone up towards the screen. When officials refused to take action, Billington called 911 to report a crime of piracy in progress; the 911 dispatcher laughed at Billington’s complaint and the blogger admits now it was a “mistake” to call emergency services instead of a non-emergency number.
The flap is making headlines for Billington’s 911 call, but it revives the hot-button debate over movie theater talking and texting. Sanctioned cell phone use in movies sparked controversy last year at CinemaCon when theater chain owners floated the idea of letting patrons text during screenings. And another journalist in attendance Monday said it appeared the offender was taking pictures of the screen. But Billington says he was told by festival reps that it’s an “unwritten policy” to allow use of any and all devices in P&I screenings. This despite TIFF’s warning ahead of both P&I screenings and public screenings that forbids cell phone use during films. (more…)