More Religious Films to Follow 'Passion'

Expect a slew of religious movies following the extraordinary success of "The Passion of the Christ," (search) said the head of the company that released the film.

"It will probably start trends and everything but at the end of the day, the films have to be pretty spectacular," said Bob Berney, president of Newmarket Films (search). "The audience, no matter what, is pretty discerning."

Berney was among several independent film distributors who spoke Saturday during the South by Southwest film festival.

He said "The Passion," Mel Gibson's (search) graphically violent rendering of the Crucifixion of Christ, already has passed 2002's "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" as the highest-grossing independent film. "Greek Wedding" made $241 million; Berney expected that "The Passion" will have earned $260 million through this weekend.

"The really interesting thing is that I think this shows that independent production and distribution can be at any level," Berney said of the film, which Gibson directed, produced and co-wrote and spent $25 million of his own money to make.

Newmarket is being offered bigger movies but will keep its focus on independent fare, Berney said. Other recent Newmarket releases include "Monster," which earned Charlize Theron (search) a best-actress Oscar, and the critically acclaimed "Whale Rider." (search

"'Passion' aside, it doesn't mean we want to do only big-release films," he said.

The film festival runs through March 20.