Over two thousand students at the University of Central Florida in Orlando streamed into the basketball arena on Good Friday. Instead spending their Friday night watching a sporting event, though, these students took a seat in front of a theater-size movie screen where The Passion of The Christ would soon be shown.
Mel Gibson's controversial blockbuster The Passion of The Christ set a new record in Orlando on Friday, April 9, when it became the first film in memory to be shown outside of a theater while the movie is still in full release on more than 3,400 cinema screens nationwide. More than 2,000 University of Central Florida (UCF) students attended the free screening.
The idea for the screening came during a meeting between UCF Campus Director, Dan Dillard, and Mel Gibson. This past January, Mel visited Orlando to promote the film at Campus Crusade's Global Pastors Network conference. Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade, introduced them and the two discussed the possibility of bringing the movie to campus for a free showing for students.
The idea became a reality when Regal Cinemas, provider of the film print to be used, and New Market films, distributor of The Passion, granted the release of a print to be shown on campus on Good Friday. Two donors made the event possible through a gift of $40,000 to bring the film to UCF students free of charge. The showing was the first time in the United States that a print of a movie has been released while it is still showing in theatres.
"The Passion of The Christ has gripped the student community at UCF like nothing we have ever seen before," says Dan Dillard, director of the UCF chapter of Campus Crusade.
Fueled by controversy and faith, The Passion of The Christ has set numerous records with over $350 million in sales in the United States during its first seven weeks in release. Friday night's extraordinary showing sets another record for the Mel Gibson movie when Regal Cinemas permit one of its copies of the film to be shown outside of a Regal Cinema at the same time the film is still showing on its own screens.
"What better day for UCF students to see The Passion of The Christ than on Good Friday, the anniversary of Jesus' suffering and death so powerfully depicted in the movie!" explains Dillard.
Students who attended the exclusive showing also received a copy of a new book with The Life of Jesus, a chronological compilation of the Gospels, and on the flip side More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell's examination of the historical questions many are asking about Jesus.
Due to the unique circumstances surrounding this showing, media from five Orlando television stations were on hand to cover the story, resulting in live coverage from the NBC, CBS, and Fox network affiliates as well as segments on ABC and the local 24 news station.
(From the United States Campus Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ)