"Passion" Stirring Controversy

Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ is said to be one of the most controversial movies out there, and it already has a lot of people talking. It also has local movie theaters already selling out of tickets, and the movie isn't even being released until next week.

One theater has been busy booking private showings for many church groups. Many congregations want to see this movie together, along with their religious leaders, and they want to be able to discuss it afterward. Theater officials say they've never been so booked for private screenings or sold so many tickets in advance.

Even though the film has yet to be released nationwide, many religious leaders like Rev. Michael Brand of the First Baptist Church of Springfield are feeling the need to book private screenings before the release date. "We saw this as an opportunity where we could control the environment and give people a chance to respond to what they have seen right then and there," he said. "And to us as ministers, it's getting the people a chance to respond to the message."

But is the message in Mel Gibson's film really clear? To Christians it may very well be, but for non-Christians, the message could mean a possible backlash. Jewish leaders say the anti-Semitism depicted in the film could be taken to extreme. "[Gibson]'s following his own vision and of course he's welcome to his own vision, the problem is he's not and expert in anti-Semitism," said Rabbi Robert. L. Wolkoff of Agudath Achim. "He doesn't realize where that vision might lead and that's really the danger here."

Part of that danger, some say, lies with those who will be focused on who killed Christ and overlook the meaning of why he had to die. "A lot of that comes from people who haven't seen it yet, but I know the story and I know that's not what it implicates at all," said Rev. Brand.

That's one of the reasons for private screenings, so those who have questions or concerns can discuss them without repercussions. Whether this films brings the backlash that some fear is yet to be seen, and whether you're a believer in the Passion or not, there's no dispute that this one man changed the course of history.

"This is not something that's only going to last for two months then everyone stops talking about it," said Rabbi Wolkoff. "This is at the basis of Western civilization, so everybody's opinions about it really, really matters."

There are only two theaters in Savannah showing Gibson's film, the Carmike Cinemas on Stephenson and the Regal 10 behind the Savannah Mall. The Regal is the only one selling advanced tickets, and they're just about sold out on opening night.

Reported by: Nicole Teigen, nteigen@wtoc.com