A high drama eruptedSaturday night over the sale of hot festival title Thank You For Smoking,with both Fox Searchlight Pictures and Paramount Classics claiming they havebought all available worldwide rights for the film including North America.

Paramount Classics co-chiefsRuth Vitale and David Dinerstein claim they had reached a deal with CassianElwes of WMA Independent and attorney David J Bloomfield on behalf of Room 9Entertainment late on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, they weretold that Fox Searchlight had bought the rights to the movie, which marks thedirectorial debut of Jason Reitman, for $7m.

Searchlight issued a releaseyesterday saying that executive vice president Joseph De Marco and senior vicepresident of acquisitions Tony Safford had closed the deal for the film.

But Paramount Classicsexecutives say that while they never had a signed agreement for the film, theyhad hammered out the deal points and subsequently papered the agreement.

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

Playing here as a specialpresentation, Thank You For Smoking stars Aaron Eckhart as anunscrupulous tobacco industry lobbyist who undergoes a crisis of conscience.

Content Film Internationalpreviously secured deals with the IndieCircle group for Italy, France, Benelux and Switzerland, and with Scanbox for Scandinavia.

' In an acquisition whichwas finalised, Sony Pictures Classics took North and South American rights fromEuropa Corp to Tommy Lee Jones' modern-day Western The Three Burials OfMelquiades Estrada, which was in competition at Cannes.

In other deals, First LookStudios picked up US rights to John Hillcoat's The Proposition, whichplays here in the Visions selection, and Picture This! Entertainment boughtNorth American rights to Brillante Mendoza's The Masseur (Masahista)playing in the Discovery strand from Gee Entertainment Productions.