Hollywood comes to Jerusalem

The Cinema City entertainment extravaganza complex opens just ahead of the Oscars.

Cinema City Jerusalem (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Cinema City Jerusalem
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
After a series of delays caused by bureaucratic red tape more than anything else, Cinema City Jerusalem opened this week, a huge new recreation and entertainment outlet for the local population, and what promises to be a magnetic tourist attraction.
Though not alone in the venture, brothers Moshe and Leon Edery, together with their longtime partner Yaacov Cohen, are Israel’s leading figures in the cinema industry. The Edery brothers are a wonderful success story.
Growing up in Dimona when it was much more peripheral than it is today, as children, they would sneak into the local movie theater because they couldn’t afford the price of a ticket.
Later they began operating the projector, and with the money they earned at this and other odd jobs, they put together sufficient capital to buy the theater.
Passionate about cinema, they became distributors, producers and owners of a chain of theaters. In fact, they are Israel’s biggest investors in all facets of the movie industry, and reinvest their profits into making the industry bigger and better.
On Tuesday they held a lunch to announce the opening and to introduce print and electronic media to the many attractions of Jerusalem’s own Cinema City.
Outside the complex, there was a small demonstration at lunchtime by members and supporters of Hitorerut; by the evening it had grown to major proportions. The demonstrators were demanding that Cinema City, which is not in a residential area, be open on Shabbat, and the matter is currently before the High Court of Justice.
When asked at the media conference what he would personally prefer, Mayor Nir Barkat refused to divulge his preference, saying that Jerusalem is a complex city in which there are religious people who want everything closed on Shabbat, and secular people who want everything open on Shabbat.
“It’s a very sensitive issue and we have to maintain the status quo,” he said, adding that he wasn’t about to place his job at risk by voicing an opinion one way or the other. He said he would await the court’s decision.
Jerusalem-born-and-raised Israel Prize laureate Yehoram Gaon, a former member of the Jerusalem City Council who was elected in 1993 and held the cultural portfolio until 2002, chaired the investors’ panel at the press conference, forecasting that Cinema City would do wonders for Jerusalem and bring people back to the center of town.
WHEN HE was growing up, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design was in town, the Hebrew University was in Givat Ram and the Knesset was on King George Avenue. The movie theaters included Rex, Edison, Orion, Orgil and Chen among others, and all of them have disappeared. Now, with its close proximity to the city center, and its diverse cultural, commercial and leisure-time offerings in addition to movies, said Gaon, Cinema City will bring back life to downtown Jerusalem. Barkat agreed.
Leon Edery said that when he and his brother built Cinema City in Rishon Lezion, people told them they were crazy, and that no one goes to the movies any more. But the reality proved to be quite different.
As for Cinema City Jerusalem, Edery credited Barkat with the initial vision. “He used to call us every day to urge us to invest in Jerusalem,” he said.
The plans kept growing and changing, and there was still the matter of a building permit which was received in April 2011.
The Ederys’ original self-imposed two-year deadline kept stretching, but given the size of the eight-story premises, with six floors underground, managing to open by February 2014 was a triumphant achievement – in relation to the much longer delays that property developers in the capital impose on apartment buyers when constructing residential premises, the total areas of which are much smaller.
AT THE media conference, the issue of Shabbat screenings seemed to outweigh all other considerations as far as journalists were concerned, especially as developers of the Sherover project in Abu Tor, which will also have a large number of cinemas, have announced since the very beginning that they will be open on Shabbat. Abu Tor is a mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood, and the land on which that project is being constructed is privately owned – distinct from the public land on which Cinema City sits.
The investment in the movie complex was NIS 250 million, but when one looks at all the glitz and glamour, plus all the intricate details such as the museum that conveys the history of Jerusalem, the special fun attractions for children such as the Noah’s Ark with animals inside and out, the Jewish film archive, the large, colorful and ultra-modern toilets and much more, it’s hard to believe that it was accomplished at an investment of only NIS 250m.
The first Cinema City in Israel that opened in 2002 is drab in comparison.
“You can’t compare this to Pi Glilot. It’s completely different,” said Moshe Edery. “We put our hearts and souls into this one, because Jerusalem is special.”
Yet for all that, the upcoming Cinema City in Beersheba will be even bigger, he said. Others are planned for Kfar Saba, Netanya, Hadera and Haifa.
In Jerusalem the entertainment center will offer free parking, and already has a huge choice of eateries including a kosher McDonald’s.
Like Barkat, the Ederys are prepared to abide by the court’s decision for the moment, but if the Sherover project is open on Shabbat, they left little doubt in people’s minds that Cinema City will also be open on Shabbat. Asked whether they were concerned about the competition, especially as the Sherover project is located in suburbia, Leon Edery said that competition is always good for business.
Cinema City opened to the public on Thursday.