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'Passion' distributors widen film's debut

Mel Gibson, right, directs Jim Caviezel on the set of Gibson's movie,
Mel Gibson, right, directs Jim Caviezel on the set of Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

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LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- The distributor of Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ" is expanding the movie's release in U.S. theaters next week to meet rising ticket demand, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Newmarket Films, which is distributing Gibson's film about the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life, is raising the number of movie prints to 4,000 from 2,500, and the number of theaters playing the film is expected to rise from 2,000 to 2,800, Newmarket spokeswoman Brooke Travis said.

The size of the film's debut now rivals that of a major Hollywood release, underscoring the strong support Christians groups are showing for it after the movie faced criticism from some Jewish leaders and others that its message might be viewed as anti-Semitic.

A big opening volume is considered key to a movie's ultimate success.

A major film will generally see a release in 2,500 or more theaters. "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," for instance, debuted in November in more than 3,100 theaters. Newmarket president Bob Berney told the show business newspaper Daily Variety that some theater owners were asking to double the number of film prints on hand for the debut next week on the Christian holy day Ash Wednesday if ticket demand continued rising.

Gibson and his Icon Productions film company have been screening the movie privately for Christian groups and religious leaders for several months to spread publicity. Gibson has said that neither he nor the film are anti-Semitic.

Many Christian churches and other groups have responded to the previews by buying up blocks of tickets for their members and organizing outings to see the movie in its first few days in theaters.

Arch Bonnema, a Southern Baptist who runs a financial services firm near Dallas, Texas, saw a preview of the film and purchased $42,000 worth of tickets for opening night, which he gave away.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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