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Hundreds flock to theater

February 25, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Whether for the "love of Jesus Christ" or curiosity about the buzz behind "The Passion of the Christ," hundreds flocked to Hagerstown Cinema 10 Tuesday evening for one of the first area showings of what some are calling the most controversial film in years.

The theater's owner said the film's early screening generated more interest this week than any movie it has shown in 35 years of business.

Theater owner/general manager Tanya Ridenour said Tuesday's crowd for the pre-release screening was the biggest response for a private showing since the theater opened in 1969. In all, about 670 people attended the simultaneous, two-theater screening.

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Members of Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church in Boonsboro and the theater organized the screening, Rob Wetzel said.

He said the theater agreed to arrange the private screening of the film, which opens nationally today, only if the group could guarantee 500 tickets would be sold.

That was not a problem between members of that congregation and some other area church groups, Wetzel said.

"I bought 500 tickets and sold the 500 in no time," he said. "Then, I sold another 150 tickets. Then, I came back to get 20 more and sold them."

Wetzel said the timing of the screening was perfect because it coincides with a part of the year that is key to the Christian faith.

"I basically wanted to see it right before Ash Wednesday because I felt it'd give people a better view of the meaning of Ash Wednesday," he said.

Doris Hollar of Waynesboro, Pa., who got her tickets from a family member involved with one of the churches holding tickets, echoed those sentiments. She said it is important for every Christian to see the movie at this time of year.

"Maybe people will appreciate the Easter season more," Hollar said. "People seem to get more nonchalant about it year after year."

Mike Sirbaugh of Boonsboro, who attended with his wife, Beth, said this is the film he has been waiting for years to see.

"I wished for years for the crucifixion to be portrayed as it was," Sirbaugh said. "I feel that's been glossed over in many films."

Sirbaugh said he feels a lot of the controversy surrounding "The Passion of the Christ" before the movie's release was unwarranted.

"I think it's a shame so many condemned it before seeing it," he said.

Jim Mackley of Sabillasville, Md., said he doubts the film will incite any anti-Semitic backlash from Christians, as many Jewish groups said they fear. Mackley said he believes the controversy was heightened by Hollywood promoters and media coverage.

"We don't say the Jews did this to Christ," Mackley said. "We put ourselves in that place."

Mackley said he was drawn to the film because of his interest in the subject matter, not the controversy.

"It'll be interesting to see someone else's viewpoint of what happened in the Bible," said Mackley, a member of Calvary Methodist Church in Frederick, Md.

Terri Mullican of Sharpsburg said she got a ticket to the screening from a friend and was interested because of all the talk about the film. Mullican said she was hoping the filmmakers told the story accurately, regardless of who might be offended.

"If it's the way it was, that's the way it was," she said. "Nowadays, people want to change history."

For Nadine Thompson of Middletown, Md., it was not the controversy, nor the buzz about the film, nor an interest in having something to talk about afterward that sent her to the theater.

"The love of Jesus brought me out," said Thompson, who was attending with other members of an independent, Tri-State Bible study group.

Ridenour said she watched the film Monday and was left "speechless." She said the movie did not glance over or sugarcoat the amount of abuse Christ took or the brutality of his death.

Although the group Tuesday requested time following the film to talk about it, Ridenour said she believed it wouldn't be necessary.

"I think everyone will be silent when it's over," she said. "It gives you a lot to think about."

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