Mobile phone ban!

An Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Texas

An Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Texas

Let me sing the praises of the Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain in Texas. The Guardian (Tuesday 15th October 2013) carried the tale that the singer Madonna was reported by fellow audience members for texting continuously during a screening of 12 Years a Slave at the Walter Reade theatre during the New York Film Festival. The response of the chief executive, Tim League, of Alamo Drafthouse (“known for its strict policy towards unruly customers”) was to ban this celebrity from all its screens. However, the report failed to mention if the Walter Reade theatre or the New York Film Festival took any disciplinary steps. Still, the action by this USA cinema chain should be a shining example not only to exhibitors across North America but also to exhibitors in the UK.

It used to be just the annoying ringtones and illuminated screens as people played their mobile phones. Now they text on phones and tablets, often not just during the adverts and trailers but also during the film screening. Frequently people use the devices during the opening and closing credits of the film. In happier times they at least left early during the latter to avoid the royal anthem. And this happens not only in the multiplexes and multi-screens but also in more serious venues such as (here in West Yorkshire) the Hyde Park Picture House and the National Media Museum. I have even suffered this at Film Festivals. Maybe because I usually go to senior screenings I have not noted the problem at the Cottage Road Cinema.

What I find really disturbing is that at two recent screenings (one being the Leeds Vue venue) there appeared to be no warning prior to the feature about the use of mobile phones. Unfortunately dogs are not admitted otherwise I would spend some time training my faithful canine partner to go hunting round the auditorium. Do any of our readers have helpful suggestions for combating this contemporary plague?

I should add that 12 Years a Slave tells a story of a C19th free New York Afro-American who is captured and forced onto a Louisiana plantation. But then it was always clear that Madonna has no shame. I hope English filmgoers give the film more serious attention when it arrives here.

Postscript: I usually avoid watching/listening to the adverts. However, I have paid closer attetnion on my last couple of visits. The Orange advert that immediately preceded the feature used to end with a warning about turning off mobile phones. The replacement EE [even more naff than its predecessor] no longer contains this. This would seem to mean that cinemas operating Orange/EE Wednesday no longer have a mobile phone use warnings? However CineWorld have their own warning notice that precedes the trailers. And the Cottage Road Cinema do not have the EE advert but they do have a distinct short message about mobile phones.

I have not seen any reports or discussion about this change, which is equally worrying. Bill Lawrence told me that some distributors and/or exhibitors wwere encouraging young audience members at certain screenings to text or twitter their reponses actually during the feature film!



  1. John Fitzgerald

    Good post Keith. Blocking systems are used in some cinemas (our local art-house cinema in Leicester). I would like this extended to classrooms and also conferences as well.

  2. keith1942

    I typed in ‘mobile phone blocking in cinemas’ and found quite a lot of pages. It seems that installing a blocking system in the UK may be illegal? A cinema in Dublin was forced to turn off their system, so it is in Eire. However, The French allow cinemas to install such systems. What a poetic comment on the different cinematic cultures!

  3. Amran

    Well said Keith. I get particularly bothered by people introducing films encouraging the use of Twitter during screenings. This happened at a screening of The New Babylon I was at recently with the London Symphonia. It even happened at a screening of Thanhouser films at the BFI a few months back.

  4. Ray Bignell

    Like others I truly hate having to share the cinema with people who seem to have no interest in what’s on the screen. Fortunately my visits to commercial cinemas are usually in early afternoon which greatly reduces the problem.
    However, to give some idea what we’re up against I notice that the local Vue cinema on its website proudly boasts “free, fast and reliable WiFi now available at your local Vue cinema.” Aarghh!

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