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The Passion of The Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 named as landmark films by AFI

Story by: Jack Foley

MEL Gibson's biblical epic, The Passion of the Christ, and Michael Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, have been hailed as two of the most significant cultural milestones of 2004 by film professionals in America.

The American Film Institute (AFI) praised both films for inspiring national debate, stating that they had 'tossed Hollywood convention out of the window'.

In film terms, both movies were among the talking points of 2004, extending their reach into religious and political circles.

Gibson's movie, which marked a labour of love for the actor-turned-director, provoked the wrath of Jewish groups, who claimed it was anti-Semitic, but was embraced by many religious leaders for helping to turn people's attentions back to the story of Jesus.

The movie chronicled the final 12 hours in the life of Christ in frequently graphic detail, becoming criticised for its high levels of violence as well. But, despite struggling to find a distributor while being made, the film broke box office records in America, where it emerged as one of the biggest grossers of the year.

Likewise, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 had to fight to win a release, before going on to set a new record at the box office for a documentary, as well as earning Moore the coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes.

His film, released deliberately to coincide with the US elections, took a look at America, post September 11, 2001, and alleged business links between President Bush and the Bin Laden family. It also claimed to feature the first footage of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, and put the political system under the microscope.

It was embraced by Americans upon its release but did not have as much sway with the voters as Moore would have liked.

In its round-up of 2004, the AFI also cited the death of actor, Marlon Brando, as a significant cultural milestone, as well as the changing landscape of TV news in America.

Referring to Brando's death on July 1, at the age of 80, the 13-strong jury concluded that the art of screen acting would not have two chapters - Before Brando and After Brando.

The jury went on to make note of Brando's 'raw hypnotic energy' and his ability to create characters 'that will live forever in the annals of film history'.

Turning its focus onto news coverage, the AFI picked out the final broadcasts of veterans Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters as incidents of note, as well as the impending retirement of CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, noting its fear that the news landscape might change to a day where newscasters are 'more personalities than journalists'.

The AFI also questioned the long-term viability of evening news broadcasts, which faced increasing competition from 24-hour news channels and the internet - a changing landscape which is also beginning to affect the UK media, given Sky's emerging dominance on cable channels, as well as the growing force of the Internet.

Also worthy of note by the judges this year was what they perceived to be the growing influence of US broadcast regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was beginning to have a 'profoud effect on television'.

Citing Janet Jackson's breast exposure during February's Super Bowl as a prime example of how the creative community had begun to self-censor itself, the judges also criticised ABC affiliates for refusing to air Steven Spielberg's critically-acclaimed and Oscar-winning World War Two epic, Saving Private Ryan, uncut for fears of possible fines.

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