LOS ANGELES: New Line Cinema's new film The Nativity Story became the first-ever movie to officially screen at the Vatican, a major step in a PR campaign targeting religious audiences.
About 8,000 invited guests attended the November 26 screening at Pope Paul VI Hall. Nativity tells the biblical story of Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Christ.
"For months, we'd been working with faith-based outreach," said Elissa Greer, EVP of field promotion, New Line Cinema. "We already knew the film was being embraced by the Catholic community. We felt confident presenting it to the Vatican."
The film's US release was December 1. However, there had already been more than 300 screenings across the country focusing on Christian audiences outside of major urban areas.
New Line is aiming to reach local audiences in smaller markets, such as worshippers at mega-churches, which number in the thousands.
"It's a deliberate part of our campaign designed to create a groundswell and drive word-of-mouth," said Christina Kounelias, New Line's EVP of publicity and corporate communications.
Publicity surrounding the film has been both positive and controversial. Screenings have benefited charity, and the diversity of the cast has been praised.
But a planned Chicago screening at a holiday festival was nixed due to the film's religious content. And stories have circulated about opposition from Pope Benedict XVI to teenage actress, Oscar-nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Mary. Castle-Hughes, 16, is pregnant and unwed. The Pope, who was preparing for his trip to Turkey, nor Castle-Hughes, who's filming in Australia, attended the Vatican premiere. But New Line denies any tension.
"We don't know where that came from," said Kounelias. "I think if [Vatican officials] felt there was something inappropriate, they wouldn't have proceeded with the screening."
The movie's publicity, including product licensing, greeting cards, and personal appearances, will continue through the holidays.
"We're trying to rally a core group of people who should be interested in seeing this story, no matter where they live," said Kounelias.