‘Nativity’ movie premieres at Vatican

By The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY – A movie about the birth of Jesus Christ made its world premiere Sunday at the Vatican, the first time a feature film debuted here.

Some 7,000 people showed up at the benefit screening of “The Nativity story” in Paul VI Hall, the auditorium regularly used for audiences with pilgrims, although Pope Benedict XVI was not present.

“I think the pope is pretty busy,” quipped director Catherine Hardwicke, referring to Benedict’s upcoming trip to Turkey.

“The Nativity Story,” which opens in the United States and Italy in time for the Christmas holidays on Dec. 1, describes Mary’s pregnancy and the trip she and Joseph undertake to Bethlehem, the town of Jesus’ birth. It explores Mary’s reaction – of fear, doubt and ultimately faith – to what is happening to her.

Keisha Castle-Hughes, of “Whale Rider” fame, stars as Mary but wasn’t at the premiere. Oscar Isaac plays Joseph. Shohreh Aghdashloo, who was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress in “House of Sand and Fog,” stars as Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.

The film was shot between Morocco and Matera, a town in southern Italy where Mel Gibson shot “The Passion of the Christ.”

Hardwicke praised “The Passion,” but said she tried to do a more uniting film than Gibson’s blockbuster.

“There were some things he did that maybe were a little controversial. We wanted our film to be uniting and make the public see the similarities between religions instead of the differences,” she said.