Italian distributor Eagle Pictures has revealed that it will increase the number of prints it releases Mel Gibson's The Passion Of Christ on in Italy from 150 to more than 500 - a figure normally associated with Italy's Christmas comedy blockbusters.

"We already had huge requests for the film from exhibitors even before the hype surrounding the Passion's US release," said Eagle spokesman Saverio Fearragina, underlining that the final screen count could be well over 500.

Fearragina would not reveal any of the marketing details surrounding the film's Italian release, but said that Eagle had been working on its campaign "for months."

The Passion, which Mel Gibson shot last year at Rome's Cinecitta Studios and in the southern Italian town of Matera, will be released in Italy on Wednesday, April 7, just ahead of the Easter weekend.

Catholic Italy's fervent anticipation of the film has grown even stronger in the wake of The Passion's US release, thanks to regular reports in the national press and on TV which have carried a host of filmgoers' opinions.