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Out of the crosshairs for ‘O’

Hot-button pic sees daylight

The tempest over the violence in Tim Blake Nelson’s “O” may, in the end, be much ado about nothing, but it certainly slowed the film along its long road to a U.S. bow.

The Lions Gate release, which had its benefit last week in Gotham prior to its Aug. 31 national bow, has no more or less violence than Shakespeare’s original play. If “O” is controversial, well, so is “Othello,” on which it is freely based.

But like Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” and Larry Clark’s “Kids” before it, “O” drew fire long before its release. Miramax invested in the pic in 1999, putting up $4 million and committing an additional $10 million for P&A.

But once “O” was ready for release last summer, Miramax got cold feet, thanks to the shootings at Columbine High School, which execs felt had created a climate unsuited for a film that explores evil and jealousy in a high school setting.

Miramax pushed the release several times. Plans for a December unspooling were canceled due to the FTC hearings on the marketing of violence to teens.

Just before Miramax was to release “O” in April, another high school shooting — this time in Santee, Calif. — led the distributor to sell the film to Lions Gate.

“They didn’t want the headache anymore,” said a source close to project.

Lions Gate embraced not only “O” but Nelson’s next film, controversial drama “The Grey Zone,” which unspools at the Toronto and Venice film festivals.

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