Movies and Piracy

The Seattle International Film Festival got underway last night. It’s an enormous event, with something like 250 feature films shown in the space of 3 1/2 weeks. There are lots of things I’m dying to see, from Guy Maddin’s two most recent films to a restored 70mm print of Jacques Tati’s Playtime and the director’s cut (with much restored footage) of Donnie Darko to new films, about which I’ve heard great things, by Pen-ek Rantanaruang, Tsai Ming-liang, and Wang Xiaoshuai.
Every year, I buy a Full Series Pass to the Festival. I used to see 40 or 45 films in the course of the Festival. But now, with a small child at home and being busy with preparations for moving across the continent, I won’t be able to manage anywhere near that number.
What especially caught my attention, though, was the following alert sent out by the Festival to all full series pass holders:

Due to piracy prevention efforts mandated by the motion picture industry and our film suppliers, recording devices of any kind (including camera phones) will not be allowed into festival venues. This policy will be strictly enforced. At certain screenings film studio representatives may require a physical search of your person or personal property upon entrance to festival venues.   These searches are in no way intended for any materials other than possible recording devices–this includes cellular telephones equipped with cameras.  We apologize for the inconvenience and will take every step to make these searches as quick, efficient and unintrusive as possible. We do not have facilities to hold or secure these items during film screenings. We strongly suggest that you leave any cameras and cell phones with cameras at home or in your car.

This says a lot about the insane levels of paranoia in Hollywood today, and the sickness of their crusade against piracy. Obviously SIFF can only show local premieres of all those hot new indie soon-to-be-releases by allowing the industry to send its goons to conduct “physical searches.” I’m assuming this is less likely to happen at screenings of the obscure Asian art films I’m most inclined to go to, than at screenings of American films that will be opening soon in the theaters anyway.
But I wonder how far they will carry this. Will they make filmgoers strip, just in case they are hiding illicit recording devices inside their underwear? Will they give refunds to banned filmgoers? Will they compensate us for the trouble they cause us?
I’ve said it many times, the current copyright code is so restrictive and so destructive of any possibility of free speech or creativity, that I believe that violating said code, by disseminating copies of music, movies, etc, for free, is a virtuous act of civil disobedience.
But cameraphones? The picture quality is so poor, and the amount of storage is so low, that I wouldn’t be able to capture images & sounds worth pirating even if I tried.
This draconian regulation puts me in a dilemma. My mobile phone is a cameraphone. It can take pictures, sort of. But it is basically a phone. If I leave it behind when I go to the movies in the evening, then when the movie’s over I won’t be able to call for a taxi, in order to get home. This is a problem, since I can’t drive. Buses in Seattle are fine during the day, but the schedule is much restricted at night, and the bus that goes near my house simply stops running after about 7pm. I don’t relish the thought of waiting half an hour for a bus, then taking a forty-minute ride, then having to walk almost half an hour in the dark in the middle of the night.
So I’m bringing my phone with me to every SIFF screening. What will happen? Will I be asked to submit to a physical search? Will I be ejected from films I very much want to see, and that I have paid for, because I refuse to surrender my device? Will I start frothing at the mouth and shouting obscenities, be blacklisted from SIFF forever, and show up on the nightly news?
Stay tuned.

One Response to “Movies and Piracy”

  1. Seattle Festival attendees to be searched . . . That’s entertainment!

    The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) sent this message to all full series pass holders : Due to piracy prevention efforts mandated by the motion picture industry and our film suppliers,