Gibson takes ‘Passion’ play to Newmarket

Icon considers release timed to Ash Wednesday

Mel Gibson has pacted with Newmarket to handle U.S. distribution for his controversial (and recently re-christened) “The Passion of Christ.”

The rent-a-system deal means that Gibson’s Icon Prods. will retain all rights to “Passion” while relying on Newmarket’s distribution apparatus in exchange for a cut of the gross.

A source close to Gibson said that Icon is mulling a release timed to Ash Wednesday, which next year falls on Feb. 25 . Previously, Gibson had been eyeing a release tied to Easter, which falls on April 11.

Icon is distributing “Passion” itself in the U.K. and Australia, where it already has its own distrib operations.

Because Newmarket will hold no rights on “Passion,” Gibson remains on the hook for the $25 million he has already personally spent making the film, which depicts the last hours in the life of Jesus Christ.

With dialogue in Latin and Aramaic — though the pic will now be subtitled — even Gibson has conceded that the film would be a tough commercial sell.

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Months before its planned release, “Passion” has attracted the kind of publicity that few commercial filmmakers would welcome.

Some Jewish scholars and orgs have said “Passion” will provoke anti-Semitism because they think it revives the ancient slur that Jews are responsible for the death of Christ. Meanwhile, some conservative Christians and Catholics, including Vatican officials, endorsed “Passion” as a teaching tool after Gibson screened the film for them.

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