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Free Passion tickets a success

By By Arthur McLean Editor
Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ," is turning out to be more than just another movie.
For an independent release, the movie is quickly gaining the stature of "blockbuster" with more than $220 million in gross revenues.
Here in Atmore, more than 1,000 residents will have the opportunity to view the movie for free.
First Presbyterian Church purchased tickets to four showings of the movie at the Strand Theater on Main Street and has given away between 600 and 700 reserved seat coupons by Friday.
The demand has been so great, tickets for a fifth showing to be held Thursday were purchased, said Wesley Channell, First Prebyterian's minister.
The church was able to purchase the tickets with the help of a grant from the Corman Foundation and Jim Corman, the founder of Touch One Communications, now Z-Tel.
"We knew that a lot of people would go to see it initially, and we knew there would be a number of church groups getting together to see it," Channell said. "We wanted to do something for those who might not otherwise go to see the movie. This wasn't something just for a church group."
The idea started with an interview on CNN. Corman, and his wife Jane, were watching an interview of a Plano, Texas man who purchased several showings at a multiplex near Dallas.
That man was Arch Bonnema. "He's a very good friend of ours," Corman said.
In the interview, Bonnema had several thousand tickets left over after donating thousands of tickets to area churches and religious groups. Bonnema got the word out that he would be willing to give tickets out of his remaining stash to people who emailed him. Within two days he received 23,000 emails.
"I turned to Jane and we need to do something like that here," Corman said.
Channell and Corman said they have been surprised at the willingness of people to come and pick up the tickets in advance, and at the diversity of people interested in seeing the movie.
"It has been very encouraging to see the courtesy, the gratitude and the anticipation of all those who want to see the film," Channell said.
In addition to the free movies, church volunteers are asking movie goers to fill out a brief survey and in exchange offering a coupon for a free video on the life of Jesus Christ.
"The Passion of the Christ remained at the top of the box office in the 12th day of its run, raking in $228.1 million by Friday.
Given the movie's current progress at the box office, Hollywood analysts say "The Passion of the Christ" could become the largest grossing independent movie in history, and could spark a new trend of looking to the Bible for movie ideas.
"We've been amazed by the interest in the movie," Channell said. "It really is quite a phenomena, something which I've never witnessed before."