LOS ANGELES: An unusual press announcement from the Vatican last week intensified the controversy surrounding the upcoming film The Passion of the Christ, and increased publicity for the niche movie that has already had phenomenal media exposure. Directed by Mel Gibson, the film is almost entirely focused on the day Jesus was crucified.
Late last year, Pope John Paul II screened the film in private. Subsequently, media reports said he declared, "It is as it was," of the film's depiction of the last day of Jesus' life. That statement, given to press by the film's co-producer, was used extensively in the publicity campaign as well as in media stories.
But in a rare interview last week, the pope's personal secretary denied that the pope had made the comment, inciting a slew of press accusing the co-producer of fabricating the remark.
Press for the film is handled by Weber Shandwick subsidiary Rogers & Cowan. R&C EVP Alan Nierob, who is also the personal publicist for Mel Gibson, has stood by the veracity of the quote, telling the New York Daily News that he personally saw an e-mail from the Vatican press office confirming it.
"I saw it in writing myself," he said. "He [the pope's press secretary] confirmed that statement, 'It is as it was.'" Nierob declined to release the e-mail, however.
R&C EVP of film and digital entertainment Teri Kane was not available for comment.
The controversy is just another incident in the already voracious press interest in the film. Passion, which is entirely in Latin and Aramaic, has become a lightning rod for debate between religious groups that either support the conservative view of Gibson's story or argue that it preaches anti-Semitism.
Gibson has been promoting the film through an extensive grassroots campaign aimed at churches across the country. It includes efforts by Christian promoters Outreach Marketing, which is providing materials to interested congregations, as well as screenings and outreach to ministries.