With such a glut of documentaries in the marketplace, it’s a rarity when one sparks a bidding war among buyers. But such was the case with Catfish, an incredibly contemporary film that follows Nev Schulman, a 24-year-old photographer who begins an online correspondence with an 8-year-old girl and her family after she contacts him asking for permission to paint one of his pictures. Just today Relativity Media announced it has acquired the rights to distribute the movie for its Rogue Pictures division after bidding for it against Paramount Pictures.

While the film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was one of the most buzzed-about projects to come out of the 10-day snow fest, the first-time filmmakers still came home without a buyer. That all changed when — on a whim — filmmaker Brett Ratner was introduced to the film by his agents at CAA. The agents had some interest in the movie from Paramount and J.J. Abrams but Ratner became such a huge fan of the movie, which is in essence a cautionary tale on social networking, that he pitched it to financier/producer Ryan Kavanaugh (of Relativity) to buy. “I knew immediately what this movie was and I was lucky enough to articulate it to someone who had the financial capabilities to pull the trigger,” says Ratner.

He and Kavanaugh made such an aggressive pitch for the film, which Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) produced, that these first-time filmmakers, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, opted to go with the duo rather than stick with Paramount, who had screen-tested the film to strong numbers. “This is one of the most compelling films I’ve seen in years,” says Ratner. “Not only because of what an audience pleaser it is, but more so because of what a statement it makes. All I can say is it was jaw-dropping and I was so surprised by the way I felt watching it.”

Ratner will now serve as executive producer on the film and perhaps his cursory involvement with the movie will broaden its appeal beyond the usual documentary audience. “I don’t care what country you’re from or who you are, you will have some connection to this movie,” says Ratner. “Everyone needs to see this movie.” Rogue Pictures is looking for a late 2010 release.