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Unplugged AFM mart sees dealing grind to a halt

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The American Film Market plunged into disarray Thursday when the Loews Hotel Internet access collapsed, leaving marketgoers dividing into BlackBerry haves and have-nots.

Just a day after organizers declared this year's market buzzword "wireless," it was that technology that exhibitors were turning to as room Internet imploded.

For those without a BlackBerry or any other kind of wireless device, the hotel quickly became a no-business, no-go area as sellers decamped from the expensive suites to return to hotel rooms or neighboring lobbies to get Internet access.

"BlackBerrys are helpful for bits and pieces and e-mail, but sending scripts out or other large files is impossible with the hotel Internet down," Paul Yi, head of the Los Angeles office of South Korean sales and production house MK Pictures.

Amanda Kenyon, head of marketing at Handmade Films International, exited the Loews to continue work at her hotel room. "We want to send and receive scripts, and we simply can't get them from our office (in the Loews). It's ridiculous. I bet they don't give anyone any money back. It is completely problematic."

There were reports of frustrated exhibitors smashing computer keyboards.

"It's fucking things up completely," said one press attache, who declined to be named. "Thank god for BlackBerrys. It is causing huge problems for the people I deal with."

But for those with BlackBerrys or mobile devices, the problems failed to cause as much frustration as for those without.

"When I'm at a market like AFM, I'm a completely mobile office," Sony Pictures Classics acquisitions exec Dylan Leiner said. "I come fully prepared with my own technology intact, so I'm not affected too much. I'm on the BlackBerry, and my business is running like clockwork."

Frustration quickly grew among market attendees because no one in the hotel's department of catering and conference management office could be raised about just how long the Internet problems would last. "They always seemed to have stepped out of the office whenever we rang to ask for a progress report," said one disgruntled seller.

With no signs of the Internet as exhibitors headed out to lunch meetings, they all were talking about the possibility of some form or pecuniary compensation.

IFTA vp and AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf said the organizers plan to sit down with the Loews management team to "address the issue of compensation for its members."

At about 3 p.m., the management issued a statement, signed by the hotel's regional vp and managing director John Thacker.

The lengthy statement pointed out that "based on the traffic at the market last year, the hotel and the AFM tripled our bandwidth capacity for this year's market." But it went on to say that "critical equipment failures have impacted us."

The statement said the Internet failings "related solely to the operations systems of the hotel and not related to the American Film Market management."

The management said its IT team was "working diligently to resolve this issue" and sincerely apologized for "any inconvenience this (situation) may cause you."

Thacker said in an interview that the main Internet router box employed by the hotel had given up the ghost "because it just didn't have the capacity to deal with the amount of traffic trying to use it."

He said the hotel was putting in place "redundancies measures" for next year and pledged to spend thousands of dollars on a backup router ahead of next year's event. Thacker was hopeful that the system would be up and running toward the end of play Thursday.

A source close the problem noted that the new video-on-demand ASDL television system installed just three weeks ago in each room also was causing crossed wires with the Internet systems.

Internet failure wasn't limited to the Loews. One Chinese company at the nearby Hotel California spent Wednesday evening camped out in the wireless hotspot in the Le Merigot to get business done with Beijing, 16 hours away.

"We're moving to the Holiday Inn," said Felice Bee, executive manager of sales and co-production for Beijing-based Huayi Brothers Features, which is at AFM to sell rights to "The Banquet," starring Zhang Ziyi.

This report was filed Wednesday afternoon from Le Merigot, which was packed with marketgoers frantically logging on to check for the all important deal confirmations, contracts and deal memos.

Jonathan Landreth and Gregg Goldstein contributed to this report.