A high drama erupted Saturday night over the sale of hot festivaltitle Thank You For Smoking, with both Fox Searchlight Pictures and Paramount Classicsclaiming they have bought all available worldwide rights for the film includingNorth America.

Paramount Classics co-chiefs Ruth Vitale and DavidDinerstein claim they had reached a deal with Cassian Elwes of WMA Independentand attorney David J Bloomfield on behalf of Room 9 Entertainment late onSaturday night.

On Sunday morning, they were told that Fox Searchlight had boughtthe rights to the movie, which marks the directorial debut of Jason Reitman,for $7m.

Searchlight issued a release yesterday saying that executive vicepresident Joseph De Marco and senior vice president of acquisitions TonySafford had closed the deal for the film.

But Paramount Classics executives say that while they never had asigned agreement for the film, they had hammered out the deal points andsubsequently papered the agreement.

At time of going to press, the issue was unresolved. Elwescategorically refused to comment on the spat.

Playing here as a special presentation, Thank You For Smoking stars Aaron Eckhart as an unscrupuloustobacco industry lobbyist who undergoes a crisis of conscience.

Content Film International previously secured deals with theIndieCircle group for Italy, France, Benelux and Switzerland, and with Scanboxfor Scandinavia.

' In an acquisition which was finalised, Sony Pictures Classicstook North and South American rights from Europa Corp to Tommy Lee Jones'modern-day Western The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, which was in competition at Cannes.

In other deals,First Look Studios picked up US rights to John Hillcoat's The Proposition, which plays here in the Visionsselection, and Picture This! Entertainment bought North American rights toBrillante Mendoza's The Masseur (Masahista) playing in the Discovery strand from Gee EntertainmentProductions.