News Column

National Geographic's 'Jerusalem' showing in IMAX at Infantry Museum

October 19, 2013


Oct. 19--Producer Taran Davies says "Jerusalem" is more than a movie.

"It is an experience," he said.

The 3D film, released by National Geographic Entertainment, opened Friday in the IMAX theatre at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.

Davies, one of the film's three producers, said no film has ever shown the ancient city the way this one does.

"This is for all the people who would love to visit this holy place and may never get the chance," he said. "This is the next best thing to being there."

Today, the city's population is around 800,000. According to a census conducted by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 61 percent of that population is Jewish, 37 percent Muslim and 2 percent Christian. Jerusalem is the heart of three religious traditions and a cradle to conflict.

"It is a fascinating place," Davies said, adding that Jerusalem is a perfect subject for the giant screen. "People have been trying to film it in the IMAX format for years, but the instability and complexity of the region made it very difficult. Having spent four years making an IMAX film about Mecca, I was eager to produce a film about one of the most enigmatic and storied cities on earth, a region which ignites such passion and is so vital to our future, on cinema's most impactful medium, the giant screen."

The museum's IMAX screen is 72 feet wide and 52 feet tall.

The 45-minute film, narrated by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, was five years in the making, with actual filming taking three years.

In the film, the producers attempted to answer what it is about this tiny space that has made Jerusalem the ultimate prize of empires and the object of longing for so many different cultures over thousands of years.

The film examines what it is like to live in Jerusalem today and explores the city's history.

Davies said the film not only examines the city's most famous landmarks, but also places rarely seen. The film takes viewers to underground quarries and tombs, ancient water tunnels and some of the active archaeological sites around the city.

The production calendar for the film was tied to the high holy days of each religion so the crew could be at the Western Wall during the Passover Priestly Blessing, the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday and the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan. According to Christian tradition, the Via Dolorosa is the route on which Jesus carried his cross.

Also captured on film is the Ceremony of the Holy Fire on Orthodox Holy Saturday inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Davies described there thousands of people holding candles.

"It is an amazing sight," he said.

Visited is The Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, where the Gospels place the arrest of Jesus, as well as places near Jerusalem such as King Herod's mountain fortress Masada and Caesarea Maritima, once the seat of Roman power in the area, The film's cameras also go to Bethlehem, just five miles from Jerusalem.

A unique feature of the film is that the producers convinced local government leaders to let them film from the sky.

"Jerusalem is a strict no-fly zone," Davies said. "Once we got permission, we took out ads in Hebrew newspapers and Arabic newspapers to let people know that these helicopters soaring just 500 feet above the holiest of places were nothing to be nervous about."

Some events were filmed from the air one year and from the ground another.

The film also has a unique way of telling the story of modern Jerusalem.

Three teen girls, one Christian, one Jewish and one Muslim, take the audience on a tour of their city.

"It is interesting how each girl can go to a same location and describe it, talk about its importance but each sees it a different way," Davies said.

The director, Daniel Ferguson, said on the film's website, "It's an opportunity for a Jew to understand Ramadan or for a Muslim to understand a Seder or Passover, the Priestly Blessing. And I think that's something that the immersive nature the giant screen can do as well, which is to take you into the life of the other. And I think that the idea of the film is really to just promote dialogue between the communities so they can better understand each other's narratives."

The producers said they wanted each shot to be unique and sought novel angles and perspectives that would change the way people look at Jerusalem.

The movie will be shown at the museum every day except Monday at noon, 1:15 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 7 p.m.


(c)2013 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)

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