Who hasn’t dreamed of traveling to Jerusalem? For those who haven’t yet made the pilgrimage, director Daniel Ferguson brings us the next best thing—Jerusalem, an IMAX film. “Through the unrivaled beauty, visceral nature and incredible technology of the giant screen format, you feel as if you are experiencing Jerusalem up-close and first-hand,” he says.
Christmas break is the perfect occasion to visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which will air the movie through the holidays and into 2014. National Geographic Cinema Ventures has distributed Jerusalem worldwide and shares Ferguson’s breathtaking aerial access to no-fly zones and exclusive entrance to iconic holy sites and little-known parts of the region—something most tourists never experience.
The film explores why the ancient city is sacred to half the people on earth. “It’s a cultural rather than a political film, but there are realities,” says Ferguson. Although the region now is relatively peaceful, up until 2005 there were suicide bombings. Ferguson and his wife relocated from Canada to Jerusalem for the project and enrolled their three year old in a Hebrew and Arabic daycare, which made a lasting impression. “My daughter still asks if we can go to Tel Aviv for the weekend,” he says.
Ferguson says his heroes growing up were filmmakers and musicians. He enjoyed a classical education, started a filmmaking group in college, and also became a theology student. In 2010 he became a line producer for the documentary Roads to Mecca. Through that experience he became fascinated with the phenomenon of Jerusalem, a city filled with Christians, Jews and Muslims who rarely intermingle. The Jerusalem project became a commitment to promote co-existence between the three Abrahamic faiths on an unprecedented scale.
To gain behind-the-scenes access, Ferguson earned the trust and goodwill of key political, religious, law enforcement, military and diplomatic authorities well before filming began. His on-the-ground and in-the-air perspective immerses audiences into the cultures within earth’s holiest city, as well as the three major religions that intersect within four walls. Jerusalem shares a historic snapshot spanning 5,000 years of conquest, destruction and renewal. Mixed in are ancient rituals still performed today: Easter, Passover and Ramadan.
For Christians, Jerusalem is a one-of-a-kind glimpse into a tiny area where Jesus spent his last days on earth. “It gives us an idea of what it must have been like to walk in his footsteps,” says Ferguson. Audiences “enter” the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, identified as the place where Jesus was crucified and entombed, and viewers also witness the Ceremony of the Holy Fire (one of the longest running miracles in Christianity). To capture the footage, Ferguson gained permission from Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Latin Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches, who all share custodial authority.
Throughout the film a narrator documents the city’s rich history and an archeologist unveils little-known facts about the sites, while three teenage girls share their perspective of what it means to live as Christians, Jews and Muslims in modern day Jerusalem.
Interestingly, the girls were discovered in counter-intuitive locations. Nadia Tadros (the Christian) responded through an ad Ferguson put up on the film’s Arabic Facebook page. “She played guitar and sang her own composition for the audition. We were amazed. She had so much charisma and energy. Her family is Greek Orthodox and Catholic, so she could speak to both of the main Christian traditions in Jerusalem,” says Ferguson.
Ferguson found Farah Ammouri (the Muslim) at the Catholic Rosary Sister’s School when a nun walked into her class and asked all the Jerusalemite girls to raise their hands. “Many of her classmates had no idea her history in Jerusalem went so far back. Farah was 15 at the time and she seemed so mature and thoughtful.”
Revital Zacharie (the Jew) came to the group just a few weeks before filming began. “She was interviewed at her grandparents’ home and the rapport between them was really special. You could really see a love of history passed down from generation to generation. We’re grateful to have been able to film a scene with Revital’s grandfather, who is an avid historian of Jerusalem.”
This is a must-see film for people who long to learn more about the Holy Land. Visit www.hmns.org and click on the “Giant Screen” tab on the navigation bar to find show times. See the trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tejeDb_5WWs.