"Mohammad, Messenger of God," the controversial epic movie denounced by leaders of the Hanafi Muslim group which seized hostages at three Washington locations Wednesday afternoon, will resume showings at a total of nine theaters in metropolitan New York and Los Angeles today.
There were indications that the film had become a considerable object of curiosity in the wake of the Hanafi raids. One Los Angeles theater manager characterized it as "an instant hit."
At the same time, additional security measures were being panned at some theater sites in both cities. The film's initial American showings were stopped Wednesday when Hanafi raiders demanded that the movie, which they characterized as sacrilegious, be withdrawn from release.
The film has not been booked in Washington.
Theater managers in Los Angeles, where "Mohammad," a $17-million production financed largely with private capital from investors and banks in Kuwait, Libya and Morocco, is scheduled to open at five locations, expressed amazement at the amount of public interest in the film.
"As far as the street reaction goes, everyone wants to see it," said Frank Scheff, manager of the Sterling Recreation chain's Paramount Theater in hollywood. "It's going to be an instant hit."
Scheff reported that people are coming by "just to look at the theater" and that he has sold 600-700 copies of the souvenir program - "not a generally hot item" - in the last three days.
Scheff added that his feelings about showing the picture haven't been affected by events in Washington. "The movie itself hasn't changed," he said. "It's a good picture. To me it's noncontroversial. It's going to be fun, I hope."
Jim Collins, manager of the same chain's Crest Theater in Westwood, admitted to "mixed feelings" about the engagement. "I'm happy," he said, "but maybe a little bit nervous. I'm sure with this publicity it will do very well. Even those who didn't want to see it before will se it now."
Collins also reported an upsurge of interest from callers and passersby. He added that two private security guards would be on duty at the theater today, "and the West Los Angeles police department will be on standby. They'll cruise, stop by and say hello."
Producer-director Moustapha Akkad and distributor Irwin Yablans emphasized that there would be no changes in advertising policy or materials, when the showings resume.
Morris Rochelle, manager of the United Artists Theater Circuit's Rivoli on Broadway in New York City, said that he was "definitely apprehensive about showing the film, very cautious." Both private security and New York City police will be on duty at his theater.
At the four New York locations "Mohammad" was stopped in the middle of its first matinee performances Wednesday. According to Rochelle, the audience reaction had been very favorable.
"They were madder than hell," he said, "that we had to stop the show. Some of the women said it was the first clean, decent picture they'd seen in some time."
Akkad and Yablans announced their determination to resume the bookings yesterday afternoon, approximately 12 hours after the Hanafi group surrendered the hostages.
According to Akkad, a Syrian-born Moslem who studied film at both UCLA and USC, "We never forced to close the picture. There was no pressure from any official source to pull it. The police explained the situation, and since innocent lives were in jeopardy, we decided to stop the film until this ordeal was over.
"We have no specific plans other than to carry on our business in an orderly fashion in a land governed by laws. We cannot allow individuals to impose their will on a majority."
Responding to a New York Times story in which "an ad hoc committee of Metropolitan area Islamic groups" was quoted criticizing his film for alleged historical distortions and inaccuracies, Akkad maintained that "No representatives of those groups have seen the film. I invited all of them to see it, and they all refused. If they can find one inaccuracy, historical or religious, I will destroy the film. My offer still stands to any Moslem group."
Asked if he had said "any Moslem group," Akkad amended the phrase to "any legitimate Moslem group" and added, "What happened in Washington is not Islamic at all. That's why I hope the film will be seen, so that people may understand the true spirit of love, brotherhood and peace. I am exposed to lots of blackmail, and there is no way wome people will change prejudiced opinions, but I want the main Islamic rule to prevail: That you do not prejudge."
The film is scheduled to open in Philadelphia, Detroit and Kansas City on March 23 in and in Chicago on March 25.
It remains to be seen if and when "Mohammad, Messenger of God" will be exhibited in the Washington area. The movie was screened for one local exhibitor, Ron Goldman of K-B Theaters, several weeks ago. Goldman said he had reacted indifferently to the film itself, which he considered "totally innocuous," and unfavorably to the terms being suggested by Yablans.
"I might have played it as a filler," Goldman remarked, "hoping for a special campaign that would attract Moslems or school groups in this area. Now I wouldn't play it under any circumstances."