Gibson Previews Controversial 'Passion'

07/22/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A two-hour rough cut of Mel Gibson's controversial movie about the crucifixion of Christ, "The Passion," had a high-security premiere in the nation's capital on Monday, reports The Washington Post.

The unreleased film has come under fire from Jewish groups after reports in The New York Times and elsewhere that it is anti-Semitic for its depiction of Jews -- a charge that its producer-director Gibson, 47, denies.

"I've heard people talking about how I can't get a distributor," Gibson, dressed casually, told his four dozen invitees. "Believe me, I can get a distributor."

Among the guests for the private screening were several conservative journalists and politicians -- Gibson is a vocal conservative and devout Catholic, The Post notes -- as well as the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti. (Screening guests were required to sign confidentiality forms, reports The Post.)

Not invited was Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, who told The Post: "I find this sad. ... Here is a man who appeals to the mass audience, but he feels he has to surround himself with a cordon sanitaire (translation: sanitary line) of people who back him theologically and maybe ideologically and will stand up and be supportive when the time comes."

Foxman has repeatedly requested to see the movie.

Valenti was enthusiastic about the movie, the paper says. "I don't see what the controversy is about," the Hollywood lobbyist reportedly told the audience at the screening. "This is a compelling piece of art. I just called Kirk Douglas and told him that this is the movie to beat."

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