Vatican to host Nativity film premiere this Sunday

"The Nativity Story", a biblical account of Jesus' birth, will become the first feature film ever to premiere at the Vatican this Sunday but pregnant star, Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Mary has not been invited.

Released by New Line Cinemas, the film, which is slated release in Australia on 30 November, will debut at the Vatican's Aulo Paolo VI (Pope Paul VI Hall).

Film director Catherine Hardwicke as well as actors Shohreh Aghdashloo and Oscar Isaac, producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, screenwriter Mike Rich will join 7,000 invited guests of the Vatican.

The event will serve as a benefit, with contributions going toward construction of a school in the village of Mughar, Israel - which has a diverse population of Christians, Muslims, and Druze and is located approximately 40 km from Nazareth.

"We are very proud of The Nativity Story and extremely grateful that the Vatican has embraced the film in this way," says Rolf Mittweg, New Line's head of worldwide marketing and distribution.

"We believe it is the perfect venue to present the film's universal message of hope and faith, a message we are sure will resonate around the world."

The film stars 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, a best-actress Oscar nominee for "Whale Rider," as Mary and Shohreh Aghdashloo, a supporting-actress nominee for "The House of Sand and Fog," as her cousin Elizabeth.

The New Zealand Herald reports, however, that Castle-Hughes has not been invited to the opening. The unmarried young star, who is of Australian and Maori descent, is expecting a baby with her longtime boyfriend, Bradley Hull.

In preparation for the Christmas release of the film New Line executives called in an evangelical preacher, a Presbyterian minister and a Catholic Pauline nun as advisers.

"They wanted to get a better handle on understanding the story and what it meant to people," Sr Rose Pacatte, a film critic who also directs the Pauline Centre for Media Studies in Culver City, California, told the Los Angeles Times.

"I never had such a good class."

Last week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops screened the movie at its annual gathering in Baltimore.

New Line's religious education is the latest effort by Hollywood to get in touch with the Christian market following the success of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ, and Walt Disney Co's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which had underlying Christian themes.

Twentieth Century Fox has launched FoxFaith, a theatrical and home-video distribution label for Christian films.

"Nativity" is a radical departure for New Line. The company, owned by giant Time Warner Inc, made its name with such low-budget hits as the "Nightmare on Elm Street" slasher series. More recently, it released the acclaimed "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and last year's hit comedy "The Wedding Crashers."

Costing more than $65 million to make and market, "Nativity" is one of the biggest and most expensive biblical-themed releases from a major media company.

The film, recounting Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, will open in time for the Christmas season.

"There is a new spirit from the Christian perspective on the entertainment industry, which is not to bash or boycott Hollywood but to demonstrate Christ- like love and hope," said Larry Poland, founder of Mastermedia.

Religious movies were once a staple of Hollywood, which through the 1950s and early 1960s released such epics as "The Ten Commandments," "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and "King of Kings." But the genre had largely fallen out of favour with studio executives, who had come to believe that it had limited box-office appeal.

"Hollywood does a great job creating films that suspend belief, but when it comes to this Bible thing, it makes everybody nervous," said Erwin McManus, head pastor at the nondenominational evangelical church Mosaic, who spoke at the New Line Christianity seminar.

New Line has been reaching out to evangelical churches and organisations by hosting screenings and discussions. The studio has held at least 200 showings of "The Nativity Story" nationwide, with more planned.

The premiere at the Vatican was made possible with the collaboration of the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, the Vatican Film Library, the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" (for Human and Christian Development), the Vicariate of Vatican City State, and the Foundation for Sacred Art and Music.

The Nativity Story To Premiere At The Vatican (Cinema Eye, 8/11/06)
New Line takes up Bible study as 'Nativity' nears (AZ Central, 23/11/06)
Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes Expecting (People, 6/10/06)
Keisha not on attendee list for Vatican premiere (New Zealand Herald, 15/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Nativity Story website
The Vatican
Vatican City (Wikipedia)
Keisha Castle-Hughes (Wikipedia)

Maori star to play Virgin Mary

24 Nov 2006