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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sean Kelly

The TIFF13 P&I Cellphone Controversy: My Two Cents

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During TIFF, a major controversy developed when Alex Billington, editor of the film blog FirstShowing.net, was annoyed at someone using their phone during a Press & Industry screening of Ti West’s The Sacrament and he ended up calling 911 to report what he perceived to be a case of piracy.  This issue became a major news story and Billington, despite admitting his mistake at calling 911, has remained firm with his belief that phone use during P&I screenings is a major problem for TIFF.  Yesterday, Billington posted a very lengthy editorial giving his side on the issue, where he states his belief that TIFF is the only festival that allows phone use during P&I screenings and he wants them to change their policy to ban them.

So, what do I think about this?  I should probably start by saying that I have been an avid reader of FirstShowing for a number of years and me and Alex Billington follow each other on Twitter.  I greatly sympathize with his issues on cellphone use in movie theatres, which is definitely becoming a growing problem.  It seems to be a regular occurrence now that I am irately telling people to turn off their phones and often end up just having my complaint thrown back at me.

That said, I do think Alex Billington is taking this issue too far.  It has been a full week since the incident happened and he is still talking about it.  Various folks have been trying to explain to Billington that the industry delegates are working and often need to use their phones to do business, however they seem to be falling on deaf ears.  I have been trying my best to remain relatively neutral on this issue, but Billington’s refusal to move on is starting to become a bit too much.

In my opinion, this is a bit of a case of biting the hand that feeds you.  Since FirstShowing started around 2006, it has become a fairly well-established film blog, getting quite a bit of traffic.  As such, Billington is able to get media accreditation for TIFF.  TIFF is a notoriously difficult film festival to get accreditation for, especially if you are a film blogger.  Over the past year or so, I’ve been able to get accreditation for other Toronto-based film festivals, such as Toronto After Dark and Hot Docs.  Despite this, I didn’t even try to apply for accreditation to TIFF, since I know my blog isn’t established enough to get accepted.  For my coverage this year, and years previous, I relied solely on tickets to public screenings, which I expect to be the case for the years to come.

If there is anything that Alex Billington’s actions have done, it is that they have further lowered the credibility of online film media and it will likely now be even MORE difficult for bloggers to get accreditation for TIFF.  The overall reluctance of TIFF to give accreditation to bloggers is a bit unfair, since many of us are just as good as the writers for major media outlets.  I for one worked very hard during the festival and spent every morning of the week writing reviews.  I don’t get paid a cent for writing these reviews, but I do so anyway because I love doing it.  If I did happen to get accredited for TIFF, I’m sure I would do a great job of it.  Just look at my coverage from this year's Hot Docs, which is probably the second biggest film festival in the city and my most in-depth film festival coverage ever.

What I’m getting at is that Alex Billington should be grateful that he can consider himself among the few bloggers that can get accredited for TIFF.  There is a time and place to complain about the problem of cellphone use in theatres and I think Billington is fighting a losing battle by criticizing the P&I policies of one of the biggest film festivals in the world.  I don’t have any opinion about whether or not TIFF should allow phones into P&I screenings, however this very public controversy is just becoming tiring.

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).