Miramax film studio founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein have personally bought rights to the picture from Walt Disney Co. 

Miramax had funded the film but Disney, which owns the art-house studio, had declined to distribute the movie, saying the documentary and its criticism of US President George Bush's war on Iraq were too politically charged. 

After more than three weeks of talks, the Weinsteins bought rights to the film for costs to date, estimated at about $6 million, and will arrange for theatrical and home video distribution, both sides said in a statement issued on Friday. 

By clinching a deal now, the movie could still be on track to get into theatres by the middle of this summer, despite a crowded field of US releases, distributors have said. 

Influencing election

That fast-track release would capitalise on the recent surge of interest in the film and give Moore a chance to influence the November presidential election with his unflattering portrait of Bush. 

Moore (R) sparked interest in
the film in early May

The Weinsteins would probably turn to a third-party distributor to handle the film, and talks with such companies already were under way while the brothers negotiated with Disney, one distributor said. 

Moore sparked interest in the film in early May by saying Disney had backed down from distributing the documentary out of fear of political repercussions. 

Disney hotly denied that charge and in turn accused the director of the anti-gun documentary Bowling for Columbine of staging a publicity stunt to promote his film. 

Box-office performance

Fahrenheit 9/11 won this month the Palme d'Or, the highest award of France's Cannes film festival, with its portrayal of families affected by the war and US government policies in the aftermath of the 11 Sept 2001 attacks that felled the World Trade Center. 

Disney says the flick is too
politically charged

It is also expected to meet or beat the box-office performance of Columbine, which set a record for a US documentary with $21.6 million in ticket sales. 

Talks are already under way between the Weinsteins and US distributors, with top contenders seen including Lions Gate Entertainment Corp, Focus Features, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal, and privately held Newmarket Films.

Smaller ThinkFilm is also in the running for the US rights and deals have already been made for releases outside the United States. 

Disney said that it could still profit if the film did well but that it would donate any profit to charity. It did not name the charity. 

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but a person familiar with it said that the charity component assured that neither Disney nor the Weinsteins would do better under the deal than if Disney had distributed it.