Coming to a theater near you... Jerusalem in 3D

IMAX extravaganza with bird's eye views of the capital city to be screened for next 5-10 years on giant screens around the world.

jerusalem 3d 311 (photo credit: Highlight Films Footage)
jerusalem 3d 311
(photo credit: Highlight Films Footage)
Jerusalem is a city that likes to think of itself as the center of the world and as larger than life. Starting in 2013, it will be larger than life – and 3D – at movie theaters in 35 countries.
Swooping over the Old City, with bird’s eye views in eyepopping 3D projected onto a giant screen, JERUSALEM: IMAX 3D is not your typical documentary about Israel’s ancient capital.
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The trailer for the movie is true to IMAX form: stunning panoramas, vivid colors, “very visceral and emotive” as producer and writer Daniel Ferguson puts it.
According to the producers, the goal is to create an allinclusive view of Jerusalem: its history, its geography, and its people – all in a 45-minute presentation that needs to stay current enough to be shown in museums across the world for the next five or 10 years, and that is unbiased enough to be shown in cinemas in the 35 countries with IMAX theaters including Israel, Kuwait, China and the US.
Sound impossible? Attempts to capture Jerusalem for the IMAX screen have failed before.
But these producers, led by Oscar winner Canadian Jake Eberts of Watership Down, Chariots of Fire, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances with Wolves, A River Runs Through It, and Chicken Run, are certain that they’ve got a winning formula.
They plan to follow four teenagers, one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim and one secular, throughout their day in Jerusalem – where they go, whom they meet, what they see, where they study, what they eat.
Instead of watching Ahmad sit in a chair and describe walking to school, the viewer will walk with him through Damascus Gate, experiencing the sensory rush that comes from the crowded stone street filled with colorful vendors and boisterous haggling, in 3D and projected onto a giant screen with 15,000 watts. (Fun fact: If an uncovered IMAX projector were on the moon, you could see it with the naked eye.) “We fully acknowledge there are more points of view than you could ever include in any film,” said producer George Duffield, best known for his documentary about the dire state of overfishing, The End of the Line, last week.
“Our responsibility is to show the audience how many different communities are in the city.”
The third producer, the New York-born England-raised Taran Davies, worked with Ferguson on the IMAX movie Journey to Mecca, about the haj pilgrimage. Ferguson has made seven IMAX films, including movies about Everest, the Tour de France and biodiversity.

The Jerusalem Post spoke with Duffield and Ferguson by phone last week to understand how the team expects to create a documentary about Jerusalem that is both all-inclusive and unbiased.
Time and time again, they returned to the idea of showing the city’s diversity as a central theme.
“Our agenda is to get people to come out of the theater and say, ‘I had no idea Jerusalem was all this, that it was so nuanced and so extraordinary, and has so much value, historical value, artistic value and spiritual value,’” Ferguson said. “We want to enliven the global public discussion and [create a] thirst for knowledge about Jerusalem.”
Duffield, who is Jewish and has a long family history of supporting Israel, said he saw this film as a type of philanthropy.
“I want people to see the city alive and breathing, and to combat perceptions people have of Jerusalem currently,” he said. Think of the impact if just a small fraction of the viewers decided to come visit, he said.
As with all the IMAX films, most of which are shown in museums, the movie’s goal is informal education. Success is not just getting people to the theater, but encouraging them to go home and delve deeper into the subject matter, through Internet research, books or perhaps visiting the city themselves, they said.
The trailer alone garnered half a million views in three months with no marketing, and the producers estimate that a multi-year run in museums around the world means the movie could reach 100 million people, making it perhaps the most powerful travel advertisement in the city’s 4,000-year history.
But filming is still in the beginning stages. Over the past year, the team has filmed about 100 minutes of aerial footage. Many of the low sweeps over Jerusalem and the West Bank had to be coordinated with the IDF, which the producers say has been quite helpful. The team will return for the bulk of the ground filming in spring 2012, capturing Passover and Easter, including moments like the Blessing of the Kohenim at the Western Wall and the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The team will also film throughout next summer, to end during Ramadan, using 300-kg. IMAX cameras.
A team of experts, including members from the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University, Al-Quds University, the University of Haifa, the University of Cambridge, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Israel Museum and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies are advising the film crew.
The producers say the coming year is sure to bring many challenges, though the aerial shots have helped them gain perspective.
“There’s a fragility to the city,” Ferguson said. From a helicopter, “you can put the Old City in a context, it totally changes your perspective. We need to continue to strive to give people a perspective they cannot get on TV, in a newspaper or on the Web.”
Even though the producers believe the IMAX is a great vehicle to tell a story, they acknowledge that it has its limits.
“There’s a piece that you don’t get, that it’s a very intense city,” Ferguson said.
“Everyone has a story in that city, an incredible story, sometimes incredibly sad, and sometimes remarkably hopeful.”
Focusing on the stories of people, especially young people, is what the producers hope will give them a balanced, timeless view of the city that so many types of people call their own. The team is currently auditioning Jerusalem natives between 12 and 17 who speak English fluently to tell the story of their city.
“People have invited me into their homes, whether for Shabbat or Iftar during Ramadan and really shared some of their passion for the city, and it’s contagious,” Ferguson said.
“Cynicism is everywhere, and sometimes one becomes overwhelmed at the challenge of making a film like this. But then there are these moments, through the people, when you realize how extraordinary it is and how much potential Jerusalem has. Even if the dream is just in our imagination, it’s still a very powerful dream.”
But the true emphasis on the film, as with all IMAX movies, will be on the visuals and the beauty. As in the tradition that holds that when God created the world, he created 10 parts of beauty, and nine went to Jerusalem, their quest is nothing new: a search for beauty in the ancient city of Jerusalem.
“No one will agree on what beauty is, it’s going to be our decision,” Ferguson said. “It’s not the same as making a film about dolphins, that’s for sure.”
Teenagers interested in auditioning for a part may e-mail