'Passion' Film Is Scheduled for Big Opening
By SHARON WAXMAN, The New York Times
January 15, 2004
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 14 The distributors of Mel Gibson's controversial new movie, "The Passion of the Christ," plan to release the film on 2,000 screens across the nation next month, a decision prompted by an unexpected flood of ticket requests.
"I knew it would start building and building," Bob Berney, the presidentof New Market Films, said of the demand, "but now it's like a tsunami."
Newmarket is distributing the film for Mr. Gibson's company, Icon Productions.
"We've had a flood of calls," Mr. Berney said. "People call and say, 'I want 10,000 tickets.'"
Church groups have been ordering
large blocks of tickets, and theater chains have set up toll-free numbers to take advance orders, Mr. Berney said. One multiplex in Plano, Tex., a suburb of Dallas, is planning to reserve all 20 of its screens for "The Passion" and will start showing the movie at 6:30 a.m. on its opening day, Feb. 25, which is Ash Wednesday.
The plans for a wide release are a striking development for a film thatjust a few months ago was having trouble finding a istributor and that was under fire from Jewish groups concerned that it carried anti-Semitic overtones. The film, in Latin and Aramaic, with subtitles, is reported to include a gory depiction of the crucifixion.
Alan Nierob, a spokesman for Mr. Gibson, said: "This is an amazing evolution. It's ne of those cases where demand has completely victated the release pattern of this film." Mr. Gibson wrote, directed, produced and paid for the $25 million movie. He was completing editing and sound mixing on the film in Los Angeles and was not available for comment
on Wednesday, his spokesman said.
"The Passion of the Christ" has been stirring interest and controversy for months over its depiction of both the crucifixion and Jews' role in it. Hollywood's major studios all passed on offers to distribute the film; Newmarket agreed to istribute it for a fee, as it did the sleeper hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
The Anti-Defamation League has warned that the film could promote anti-Semitism at a time when it says anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment is on the rise.
For his part, Mr. Gibson, who practices a traditionalist form of Catholicism, has listed the support of Christian groups and screened the film for Pope John Paul II and other officials at the Vatican. He has also shown the film to leading conservative figures like the writer Peggy Noonan. A grass-roots campaign among evangelical Protestants and Catholics has also stoked interest in the film.
Mr. Nierob said that the film was not meant to encourage
anti-Semitism, and that Mr. Gibson was confident it would not.
"The viewpoint of the filmmaker is that that is not his intent, nor of any interest to him," Mr. Nierob said. "That's contrary to what he feels the film will accomplish."