8 amazingly self-righteous quotes from the berk who called 911 on a cellphone user during a Toronto Film Festival screening

Wednesday September 18th 2013

In the major leagues of Acting Like A Self-Important Jackass Under The Guise Of Being A Man Of The People, Kevin Smith is a hard man to eclipse. But earlier this week, the man pictured alongside Smith in the above photograph — Alex Billington, editor of FirstShowing.net — did just that, when he published an article under the headline ‘TIFF’s Embarrassing Problem – Rampant Industry Cell Phone Abuse’, in which he defended his decision to call 911 after spotting an audience member using their phone during a ‘press and industry’ screening of Ti West’s The Sacrament at the Toronto Film Festival.

Here are ten choice quotes from Alex’s staunch defence of his toys-out-of-the-pram approach to conflict resolution:

‘The fest has an embarrassing problem with rampant cell phone use during Press & Industry screenings. And I am the first person in the festival’s history to stand up to it, say something about it, and make a ruckus big enough to actually draw the attention of the festival’s decision-makers. It’s time for them to make a change. It’s time for this repulsive problem to be brought to light and for the festival to once again set a precedent for preserving the profoundly affecting experience of cinema.’

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Alex Billington — defender of the profoundly affecting experience of cinema (who was more than happy to tweet his way through a public showing of Crank 2 in Los Angeles a few years back).

‘Over the last few years with the rise of mobile technology, the industry side of the fest has become rampant with abusers of technology who seem to have no respect for other attendees or the theatrical experience. During most Press & Industry (P&I) screenings, a handful of people in the screening will often take out their phones/iPads/laptops and begin to do “work” right in the middle of the film.’

With his devastating use of ironic quote marks around the word “work”, Alex skilfully implies that these abusers of technology (oo-er) aren’t in fact working at all, but instead twiddling pointlessly with their phones because they lack the true, transcendental appreciation for cinema that only Alex Billington can possess.

‘Within minutes of [The Sacrament] starting, a man sitting in the very front row of the theater took out his phone… and pointed it towards the screen directly in front of him. He kept using it like this for 10 minutes. At this point I became very concerned. Is he taking photos of the screen? Is he pirating? And the theater staff won’t do anything about it? Who will? Anyone? So I called the police.’

As much fun as it is to imagine Alex ‘becoming very concerned’, I can’t help but think that the questions he asks here aren’t so much representative of his actual thought process at the time of the incident, as a desperate attempt to rationalise his actions afterwards. Was the guy pirating? No, he wasn’t. Anyone with a brain can tell the difference between somebody pirating a feature film (spoiler alert: they don’t sit in the fucking front row) and somebody sending an e-mail or reading a text.

In fact, it reminds me of the first time I read Alex’s article. At this point I became very concerned. Is he making up some bullshit excuse to justify acting like an overindulged toddler? Is he in fact fully aware that no piracy was taking place and just wants to use the suggestion to get his way by any means necessary? Don’t look at me, I’m just asking questions.

‘There is also an anti-piracy slide that shows before every screening, including P&I, that says “please turn off your electronic devices” in order to prevent piracy. TIFF doesn’t follow their own rules, as far as I can tell. These slides are only meant for the public. I was explicitly told by TIFF staff in our discussion there is a separate policy for P&I screenings, and they do allow any devices to be used in P&I screenings. So why do they show this slide?’

Why do they show this slide? I demand to know! And if nobody tells me, I will camp outside the White House until President Obama himself takes to the Rose Garden to explain this grotesque violation of basic human decency.”

‘To clear the air, I am not narcissistic and my goal is not to bring any extra attention to myself or this website at all.’

Now, it’s not for me to judge whether or not Alex’s behaviour was narcissistic and attention-seeking, but I would like to admit two things into evidence. The first is a Steve Jobs quote he tweeted shortly after the incident…

And the second is his own description of what he got up to the following day:

‘The day after the incident, I was interviewed by every major Canadian TV station – Global News, CTV, CBC and CP24. All of them just wanted to hear my side of the story because, I think deep down, they sympathized with me.’

It’s lucky somebody found themselves siding with Alex, because according to this AP report, the emergency dispatcher laughed in his face after discovering the reason for his call.

‘After two years of complaining to their staff to no avail, escalation was necessary.’

Strangely, the Toronto Police Service saw things a little differently, with Officer Tim Burrows tweeting the following at him later that afternoon…

‘It’s absurd to claim any of these reprehensible industry people are “working”. They are not working. They’ve totally checked out of the film they’re (supposed to be) watching and are too lazy, and too disrespectful, to step out of the theater to send an email, respond to a text or call a friend/co-worker (or whatever they need to do).’

To address Alex’s concerns about the work ethics of TIFF’s industry attendees, I figured I’d go to the source, so I showed his claim to a buyer who not only attended the festival, but was actually sat in the front row — with their phone out — during that fateful screening of The Sacrament.

They had this to say:

‘What does he think we’re doing if not working? If you’re in a press and industry screening, you have to accept that some people are there because they want to know if the film is a candidate for release. That means it’s vital that we’re in constant contact with our colleagues because that’s the reason we’re fucking there — to talk to them and mobilise them so that they can buy the right films.

As a film critic, he’s in a position of privilege at a festival like TIFF, but our business is getting the films out to a wider audience.’