LOS ANGELES – Mel Gibson stirred passions with his blockbuster "Passion of the Christ" and might well again with his latest project — a nonfiction television movie set against the backdrop of the Holocaust.
For ABC, Gibson's Con Artist Productions is developing "Flory," based on the true-life love story of a Dutch Jew named Flory Van Beek and her non-Jewish boyfriend who sheltered her from the Nazis.
Gibson's involvement in the project has already raised some eyebrows because critics claimed "Passion" contained anti-Semitic elements, a charge Gibson has denied. Gibson's father also is on the record denying that the Holocaust took place.
"For him to be associated with this movie is cause for concern," said Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Melrose Park, Pa., and the author of an annual study of Holocaust denial.
"He needs to come clean that he repudiates Holocaust denial, and that he understands the Holocaust was not just another atrocity that occurred in World War II along with other atrocities."
Gibson was in Mexico working on Disney's "Apocalypto" and couldn't be reached for comment.
Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president in charge of television movies, acknowledged that controversy surrounding Gibson could help publicize the project. But he had a harsh reply for early critics.
"I would tell them to shut up and wait to see the movie, and then judge," said Taylor, who oversaw ABC's Emmy-winning miniseries "Anne Frank." "I'm not about to rewrite history. I'm going to explore an amazing love story that we can all learn from and, hopefully, be inspired by."
"Flory" is based on Van Beek's 1998 memoir, "Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death." With her husband, Felix, Van Beek survived the sinking of their ship as they tried to flee to safety in Chile, and three years of hiding during the German occupation of Holland.
The movie has not been formally green-lighted and it wouldn't air until at least the 2006-07 season. It's also unclear whether Gibson will be the executive producer.
"Flory" is being designed as a four-hour miniseries but ABC will make the final decision on the length, said Daniel Sladek, an independent producer who pitched Van Beek's story to the network and is slated to be one of the executive producers.