Blogger’s 911 Call Blows Up the Toronto Film Festival

The Sacrament arrived at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival with a lot of drama already built-in. It’s about a pair of fictitious VICE correspondents who convince a friend to visit a family member at a Jim Jones/Guyana style religious compound so they can tag along for documentary purposes.

But the real drama at a Monday press & industry screening of the movie – per the dozens and dozens of subsequent news reports- occurred when New York-based blogger Alex Billington ( dialed 911 to report what he thought was someone trying to pirate the film with a cell phone. The individual appears instead to have been a boorish film buyer with a reputation for flaunting electronic devices at screenings.

Billington’s actions have become a tipping point for something many other journalists in attendance at TIFF this year have been grousing about: the festival’s lack of a defined policy governing the use of cell phones and tablets at press & industry screenings. TIFF VP of communications Jennifer Bell is on record in some of the reports as confirming that TIFF does not have an official set of such rules, other than asking at the beginning of screenings that attendees silence/turn off their devices. (And we all know how well that works.)

Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells, no stranger to headline-grabbing film festival behavior, has deemed Billington’s 911 call to be “serious gonzo.” The vet has since admitted that it was a mistake to call emergency services, but he has nevertheless sparked a massive Twitter discussion among journalists and perhaps as well pointed TIFF towards a serious review of P&I screening policies once this year’s edition is concluded.

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