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Gibson 'Passion' to open on 2,000 screens

Mel Gibson directs Jim Caviezel in "The Passion of Christ."

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LOS ANGELES, Reuters (Reuters) -- Sometimes a little faith can go a long way.

Mel Gibson's controversial new film, "The Passion of Christ," which at first had a hard time finding a distributor, will be independently released on about 2,000 screens in the United States next month, a Gibson spokesman said on Wednesday.

A release on 2,000 screens is similar to what a major studio release would receive.

The movie, whose dialogue is in Latin and Aramaic, covers the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ and has come under fire from some Jewish groups who claim its story could foment anti-Semitism by tying Christ's death to Jewish authorities.

But Catholic and Protestant groups, as well as biblical scholars, have defended the film, saying it sticks closely to accounts of the crucifixion as told in the New Testament.

Pope John Paul saw the movie in December and told his longtime Polish secretary Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, "It is as it was," meaning he considered it an authentic portrayal of Gospel accounts, a Vatican source told Reuters.

Even though Gibson is a high-profile actor and Oscar winning director of films such as "Braveheart," "Passion of Christ" could not find a major motion picture studio that would distribute it due to the controversy.

In October, Gibson's Icon Productions film company and independent movie specialist Newmarket Films agreed to jointly distribute "Passion of Christ" starting on February 25.

Independent films normally start in small releases in only a few theaters. As their popularity grows, the distributor will place the film in hundreds of theaters around the country.

Newmarket's "Whale Rider," for instance, peaked at just over 550 screens this past summer.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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