It isn't everyday that nunsand priests are seen scurrying to find a seat at the world premiere of a film,but when New Line Cinema's Catherine Hardwicke-directed The Nativity Story was approved by the Vatican for its "poeticand faithful retelling of the scriptures" the Vatican hosted its first worldpremiere of a Hollywood production.

Although the Pope was notscheduled to attend, Nativity press coverage lasted for an extended two days.Press junkets were held Saturday with most of the principal cast (except lead KeishaCastle-Hughes who was not in Italy) followed by a packed press day Sundayconsisting of morning photo opportunities, afternoon arrivals and finally, thepremiere, which was then followed by another interview session.

Nativity also had asatellite feed (of Vatican Television coverage of the events) that was blastedto broadcasters - ensuring that the good news would get out one way or another.

After The Passion of theChrist - which grossed $600m worldwide, a Vatican plug would seem the most desirable thing the producers of a religiousfilm could hope for.

After the premier,Nativity's producer Wyck Godfrey told ScreenDaily.comthat a Vatican release had not been "in their wildestdreams."

Godfrey credited Italiandistributor Eagle Pictures for the Vatican launch."It started out as 'maybe we can get them to say something nice about thefilm' and it slowly worked its way up to the levels and eventually they (said)'they want to have the premier there' so obviously that was an amazingopportunity for us."

"I hope the film willdo one-tenth the business that ThePassion did," Godfrey said when asked to compare the projects. "That was aphenomenon. In reality it is Christmas season, and people will comespecifically if they want to see a film about Christmas. It is very differentfrom The Passion which is a much moresomber time of year and a much sadder story. (Nativity) is much more of a family film."

But just how much did the Vatican plug influence Hardwicke's chaste directing style'

"I don't think thatanybody knew there was a chance (the film would premiere at the Vatican) because no movie has ever been here before. I justtried to make each moment alive and make it feel like it was really happeningright there in the moment," said the director, whose previous films were thewildly different Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown.

When lights dimmed on thealmost full to capacity Paul Six Hall it became clear - at least with this 7,000-strongaudience - she was spot on. The faithful reacted emotionally to elements of astory they all knew very well: a roar of cheers and applause broke out at themoment Christ was born.

The Nativity Story opens Dec1 on 2,800 screens in the US and in most international territories, withremaining territories following on Dec 8.