Produced by National Geographic, directed by Daniel Ferguson and narrated by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, this short, beautifully filmed documentary about one of the world’s most treasured square miles, “Jerusalem 3-D” (2013) sums up the Holy City’s 5,000 years of history in three religions and 40 minutes. Now playing in major cities world-wide.
A glossy portrayal of an ancient city
It was the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful hour I could’ve experienced on a Saturday morning, short of waking up in Jerusalem to the sound of the call to prayer. Even non-religious people would certainly appreciate these arresting scenes, all filmed in jubilant spring sunshine that one might imagine glides over every Passover, Ramadan, or Easter in the Holy Land.
Yet I couldn’t help the niggling feeling throughout that this documentary was carefully pieced together on eggshells by British film-maker Daniel Ferguson. Yes, it seems to precisely devote 12 minutes and 33 seconds to the three teenaged girls featured – one Christian, one Jewish, and one Muslim, each for exactly one third of the film. Sam Hailes writing for Music & Life online magazine also notes this meticulous attention to “…balance and fairness shown to the three monotheistic religions. It was clear that every word of script (narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch) had been agonized over so as not to offend anyone.”
To that end, Jerusalem 3-D must be marketable in IMAX theatres globally for the next decade, which means that nowhere in this film will the viewer find any whiff of politics. Nor is there mention of ubiquitous Israeli soldiers with automatic rifles on every corner of the Old City, Palestinian/Arab boys as young as five or six throwing stones at these Israeli soldiers and their rifles. Nor will you see the 8-metre high concrete fence/wall/barrier that divides Israeli from Palestinian/Arab, and is always somehow just out of frame.
Interestingly, the American archeologist and expert-of-note for this film, Dr. Jodi Magness makes a point that any story about Jerusalem isn’t one that can ignore the historic significance of at least 500 decades of conquerors, the vanquished and each round of “occupation” by the victors that continues to this day (her choice of loaded words, not mine).
As such, the message by the film’s director is pretty clear; for the obvious reasons stated above, he stayed well away from any politics and instead, as Hailes continues, “…[Ferguson] hammers home the point that these three 17 year-old girls from three different religions live within a square mile of each other but are not friends. They know little to nothing of the other’s faith and culture. They do not know the other’s narrative. And according to Ferguson, they should.” If this is indeed Ferguson’s aim, despite the best intentions, it can still seem both naive and patronising for a Westerner to give Jerusalemites a little moral lesson in how to be civilised to each other. After all, the narrator muses, all three peoples are so much more alike than different, so why don’t they just get along?
Perhaps it’s telling that the film ends with the Jewish girl, Revital Zacharie, wondering aloud about the Christian and Muslim girl; are they curious, too, about her religion? About her culture? Maybe they all should get together and learn more about each other’s life? Sadly, as the scene shows the three young women about to meet serendipitously at an intersection of the Old City market, Zacharie is the one who decides, not yet, maybe it’s still too soon. Who knows what the other two think about this very possibility, because at this point, the screen fades to black.
No matter what your faith or politics, “Jerusalem The Movie” is great marketing for the tourism board of this majestic city, this amazing corner of the Earth. If you’re looking for some kind of affirmation of your beliefs, though, don’t look here; try a different documentary (such as Paddy Ashdown’s “Battle for the Holy Land” (2007) is just one of many I found on YouTube) or better yet, go to the Holy City and experience her for yourself.
More links and information
- Jerusalem 3-D on IMDB (2013) – user rating: 7.8/10 stars – interestingly, currently missing from the cast list are the two of the three girls featured: Nadia Tadrous, a Christian and Farah Ammouri, a Muslim, both Palestinian/Arab.
- View info and book tickets for Jerusalem 3-D at BFI IMAX, Southbank, London
- “Jerusalem IMAX movie by National Geographic is just stunning” by Yasmina Hafiz in The Huffington Post – 17 September 2013
- “Jerusalem comes alive in IMAX 3-D” review by Sam Hailes for Music & Life online magazine – 22 January 2014 – “Even documentaries portray a message, and the message here comes across loud and clear… The director wants his film to promote peace and interfaith understanding.”
- “Coming soon to a theatre near you: Jerusalem 3-D” by Melanie Lidman for The Jerusalem Post – 28 August 2011 – “According to the producers, the goal is to create an all-inclusive view of Jerusalem: its history, its geography, and its people – all in a 45-minute presentation… that is unbiased enough to be shown in cinemas in the 35 countries with IMAX theaters including Israel, Kuwait, China and the US.”
- Review: “A prismatic portrait of the Holy City” by Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post – 21 November 2013 – “…the film is at its most moving, paradoxically, when the camera gets down to street level…”
- Review: “Documentary with Hollywood production values and a Benedict Cumberbatch voiceover” by Henry Fitzherbert of Daily Express – 16 January 2014 – “It’s the personal stories of three attractive young women, present day inhabitants representing the three faiths, which make this a moving and vital production.”
- Benedict Cumberbatch on IMDB
Event details: Jerusalem 3-D is on at BFI Imax, 1 Charlie Chaplin Walk, London SE1 8XR. Schedule and listings vary (see website). Step-free access. Paid admission, concessions.
Upcoming show times in May 2014:
Tue 13 May 2014 – 1:00 PM
Wed 14 May 2014 – 1:00 PM
Thu 15 May 2014 – 9:30 AM
Fri 16 May 2014 – 9:45 AM