WHEELING AND DEALING AT SUNDANCE

In an unprecedented wave of buying led by Paramount Vantage and Fox Searchlight, the specialty divisions of major studios and other distributors picked up nearly a dozen movies at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday and Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Wednesday). Nearly all the films have sold for $3 million or more. Rich Klubeck of United Talent Agency told the newspaper that the buying spree occurred after virtually no deals were made over the weekend. "Not only have I not seen this kind of activity, but for it to take off this quickly -- the first two days nothing sold, and then the movies started playing, people liked them, and everything started selling," he said. Cassian Elwes of the William Morris agency said that buyers have been keeping an eye on the Internet to glean reaction to the films. "The bloggers are going up with reactions in minutes, and the trades [Variety and The Hollywood Reporter] are doing instant reviews," Elwes said. "So the buyers already know what audiences are thinking." Variety reported that bidding was particularly intense over the British film Son of Rambow, after it premiered Monday night. Paramount Vantage ultimately won the distribution rights for $8 million. A short time later, the Weinstein Co. and Fox Searchlight jointly paid $5 million to buy a drama about Mexican immigrants titled La Misma Luna.

VALENTI RESIGNED TO RATINGS CHANGES

Jack Valenti, who, while head of the Motion Picture Association of America, adamantly resisted any alterations to the movie ratings system that he inaugurated, said Tuesday that the changes announced by his successor, Dan Glickman, at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend were "O.K." However, in an interview with Daily Variety, Valenti quickly added, "But there's a white elephant in the room. ... The fact is that 80 percent of parents with children under 13 say the system is either fairly useful or very useful in making decisions about which movies their kids should see." He repeated a comment that has been his mantra in the past when discussing proposed changes to the ratings system: "It was designed for parents, and it has worked for 38 years for the people it was intended for. Nothing lasts that long in this competitive and venomous marketplace unless it's doing something right."

SUNDANCE FILM HOUNDDOG COURTS CONTROVERSY

Controversy continues to escalate over a brief scene in the Sundance-entered film Hounddog in which a character, played by 12-year-old Dakota Fanning, is raped by a teenager. The rape, which takes place during a thunderstorm, shows two brief flashes of Fanning's face and her voice can be heard shouting "Stop it!" on the soundtrack, but there is no nudity and no graphic description of the rape. New York Sun writer Darrell Hartman wrote, "What the scene makes clear more than anything is that the filmmakers ... are as horrified by the rape of a child as the rest of us." However, FoxNews.com's movie writer Roger Friedman wrote, "The rape scene, no matter how it's spun, is disturbing and unsettling in fictional terms. In real life, though, it's creepier to think that Dakota's parents considered this a scene that was appropriate for their daughter." Fanning herself told today's (Wednesday) edition of USA Today: ""Pretty much everybody who talked about [the scene] attacked my mother, which I did not appreciate. That was extremely uncalled for and hurtful."

GAY ACTORS TO HOLD FIRST UNION MEETING

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) said Tuesday that it plans to hold the first meeting of its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Actors Caucus on Feb. 20. The union said that the purpose of the meeting is to support gay actors and "to educate the membership, the industry, and the public" about matters affecting them. The meeting, it said, will focus on ways to end discrimination against gay actors in the workplace.

U.K. BOOKMAKERS FAVOR THE DEPARTED

Ladbrokes, the British bookmaker, has given 10-to-11 odds that Martin Scorsese's The Departed will win the Oscar for best picture this year. Babel is close behind with 9-4 odds. Little Miss Sunshine follows at 4-1. Dark horses are The Queen with 8-1 odds and Letters from Iwo Jima at 12-1. In the acting category, the bookmaker has already stopped taking bets on Helen Mirren in the best actress category, who is regarded as a shoo-in.

WORST MOVIE PIRATES? CANADIANS, SAYS REPORT

While Asia is often cited as the home base of most movie pirates, 20th Century Fox maintains that as much as 50 percent of the world's bootlegged movies actually comes from Canada, with the overwhelming number being turned out in Montreal, the Ottawa Citizen reported Tuesday. The newspaper said that Fox has warned exhibitors in Montreal that unless steps are taken to crack down on illegal recording, it plans to delay the release of new titles. The Montreal Gazette recently reported that many kids are sneaking camcorders into theaters by hiding them in tubs of popcorn. It pointed out that in Canada, unlike many areas of the U.S., it is not illegal to use a camcorder in a theater and that the most a theater owner can do is ask a patron who is doing so to leave. Dianne Schwalm, senior vice-president for advertising and publicity at Warner Bros., told the newspaper, "Pirates are aware that unless the law here is changed, there's no penalty if they get caught recording -- only if they get caught trying to sell."

Brian B.