Mel Gibson offers a peek at his ''Passion.'' Only Christian festivalgoers will see the 4 1/2-minute preview

By Liane Bonin
August 08, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Passion Set: Photo Media/Globe Photos

It pays to have a friend in Jesus, at least if you want to see Mel Gibson’s new film ”The Passion.” The actor-director will be screening a 4 1/2-minute clip from the film for tens of thousands of attendees at a Christian festival this weekend in Anaheim, Calif.

This sneak peek may be the most extensive cut fans will be able to see for a while. (A shorter, unofficial trailer has popped up on the Internet.) Though the film is expected to be released this spring, Gibson has not yet signed a distribution deal for the controversial movie, which graphically portrays the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus.

Though Gibson has screened the film in its entirety for a select list of movie insiders and religious scholars, he has refused to show it to others who have expressed concerns that the film is anti-Semitic. Though the ”Braveheart” director has said the film is meant ”to inspire, not offend,” critics claim an early script portrayed Jews as bloodthirsty antagonists. Representatives for Gibson claim the script reviewed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not only outdated but stolen. The group later issued an apology and returned the script.

”Why doesn’t he show it to us?” Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, asked Reuters. ”If in fact the film is a loving film, a sensitive film, I’ll be out there proclaiming and saying it’s wonderful.”

As to when the rest of us will be able to see ”The Passion,” some industry insiders question whether the film will ever reach your local cineplex. Not only is the film reportedly a bloody one, but the dialogue was shot entirely in Aramaic and Latin (whether subtitles will be added is still being debated). Somewhere, a high school Latin teacher is laughing.