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Sun, Feb. 23

Passion film generates great interest in PV

"It seems like everyone is excited about this film, but there are not a lot of answers through the normal media. It's more through the churches," Jogerst said.

According to the official website, The Passion of the Christ depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus of Nazareth's life, from his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane to his arrest and scourging in Jerusalem, carrying the cross through the streets of the city after his condemnation to death, and his death by crucifixion on Golgotha. The production company, Icon, has not aired any television spots, but rather has screened the movie for selected media and religious leaders.

The controversy about the film centers around the fear of some people that it will fuel anti-Semitism by depicting that the Jews killed Jesus. But others who have seen and reviewed The Passion say it does not denigrate Jews.

Syndicated Wall Street opinion columnist Peggy Noonan watched a screening of the film and wrote, "I was relieved. It is a story about Jews and Romans, about Jewish saints and sinners and Roman brutes and cynics, but it isn't really about Jews and Romans; it's about humanity. It's about us."

Rick Edwards, pastor of Prescott Valley's Church at Glassford Hill, who saw the film as part of a special screening for 3,500 pastors and laymen in Lake Forest, Calif., said the movie is "absolutely not anti-semitic. People have to understand that we all crucified Christ, because of our sins."

The Tribune made several attempts to contact local Jewish leaders for comment about the film, but was unsuccessful. However, Bill Straus, Arizona regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he will see the film in the Phoenix area in a regular opening today, and commented on the concerns of the Jewish community.

"I was invited to go (earlier) with an interfaith group that I am a member of. But from what I have heard, it is such an intensely personal experience for Christian viewers, and in most cases a positive reaffirmation of their faith. I'm trying to be sensitive to their attending , as I would have liked Mel Gibson to be toward our concerns about the movie," he said.

Straus said the Jewish community's concerns about the movie stem from past "passion plays" dating back to the 13th Century.

"There is a documented pattern of these passion plays being followed by violence to and within the Jewish community, particularly in Europe. Most Christians don't harbor anti-Semitic viewpoints. Those people will not come away with feelings of anti-Semitism. But we feel that for people who go in with pre-existing resentment toward Jewish people, the film may very well fan the flame of that resentment and in some cases hatred," he said.

Straus added that many Jewish leaders would have liked the opportunity to have more dialogue with Mel Gibson and Icon Films from the beginning about the movie, and their concerns.

"It would possibly have instilled some sensitivity to those concerns," he said. "There was one very offensive scene and Mel Gibson did delete it. We're not out to censor the film, we recognize he has the right to make the movie he wants to make, but we also recognize that we have the right to speak to the community about what the final project will be."

Straus said he would tell people who will see the film to remember that it is one person's interpretation of the events surrounding Christ's crucifixion.

"I want them to understand this is just one person's viewpoint, just like any film, no matter what the movie is based on, no matter how much documentation is filtered through. The filmmaker in this film purportedly promoted this as an absolutely factual rendition. But he based the film on four gospels (in which) uncertain points are very much in disagreement with each other."

Rick Edwards said he was also skeptical about the movie before he viewed it.

"I was like a lot of people, going in, I had heard so much about it. I didn't know if it was accurate or what the situation would be. To make a long story short, it was the most powerful movie experience of my life, and one of the most moving spiritual encounters I've ever had," he said.

Noonan reiterated those comments in her article: "…I watched, and found myself moved and inspired by the film, which isn't about hatred but love, and love's continuing war with evil. It is a film that engenders awe, gratitude, and no small amount of self-examination. What role do I play in the crucifixion of Christ, and what role would I have played if I had been there?"

The Passion of the Christ carries an "R" rating for graphic violence, but Edwards said he still highly recommends the film.

"I would not let the violence be an issue. Its rating is due to the graphic reality of the crucifixion. I would caution parents with kids under 12," he said. "It tugs at the heart. When you see other Gibson movies, like Braveheart, you are not connected to those people. But when you see Jesus, who is a friend, a king and savior, being beaten and slaughtered in front of you, it's almost more than you can handle."

Jogerst said several religious groups in the area have rented part of the theater for private screenings of the movie to run concurrent with public showings. One of those groups is the Living Faith Christian Center on Coyote Springs Road, which gave away tickets to a screening of the film to those who attended a special "Passion Service" last Sunday. Church member Janet Mahany said 100 guests attended the event, and the church will extend the free ticket offer this coming Sunday as well.

The Passion of the Christ opens at Harkins on Feb. 25 at 12:15 p.m. and subsequent shows throughout the day will be at 1:15, 3:15, 4:15, 6:15, 7:15, 9:15 and 10:15 p.m.

Jogerst said he doesn't know if the showings will sell out, but said he expects a good attendance at all.

"I'm prepared for a sellout," he said.

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