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New Film Tells the Real – Religious – Christmas Story

A new film features some familiar Hollywood plot lines: a scandalous teenage pregnancy and young runaways fleeing the law. What makes this different from the usual teen rebels is that the pregnant teen is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, the savior of the Christian faith. VOA's Jim Bertel has more on the retelling of the real Christmas story.

At this time every year Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus. But until now, Hollywood had never brought the story to the big screen. The new film "The Nativity Story" chronicles the journey of two people, Mary and Joseph, a miraculous pregnancy, and the birth of Jesus.

Australian actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, an Academy Award nominee for "Whale Rider,” plays the Virgin Mary.

Iranian born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo co-stars as Mary's cousin Elizabeth. In an interview with VOA, Aghdashloo described her inspiration for the role.

"When I started reading about her I realized what a generous, giving, selfless woman she was, with a heart filled with love and passion for humanity. While doing this research I realized, ‘Oh my God, this woman reminds me of my grandmother so much.’ "

The actress says she combined the physical movements of her grandmother with the words of Elizabeth to create the character.

Catherine Hardwicke, a former production designer, directed the film. She says, at first glance, the film did not seem to be the right fit. Then she took a closer look.

"I started to read the script and I was so excited to know that Mary was thirteen years old -- to think of a thirteen-year-old girl was put in these incredible circumstances, and I work with teenagers before [in other films], and that was what got me into it and I wanted to explore that whole world.”

Exploring that world and capturing its authenticity was important to Hardwicke. Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac, who plays Joseph, says that included spending time at what the actors called "the Nazareth boot camp."

"Well, for a month, we worked with technical advisors and learned how to be a real first century, young, Jewish carpenter,” said Isaac. “And I worked with tools and I made the staff that I used in the film and the walls of my house. And I really learned how to live back then."

Aghdashloo agrees the training was very helpful. "Different sessions -- working with a dialect coach, (a) great dialect coach, Jessica Drake -- and taking different classes: how to weave a carpet, how to milk a goat, how to make bread -- my favorite (was) milking the goat.”

The reviews of the film have been mixed, but most critics agree the story faithfully follows the biblical tale. It is now playing worldwide.