MONTREAL — One hundred million people worldwide is the target audience of the makers of a 3D Imax documentary on Jerusalem, a not-for-profit venture that they hope will transform the views of people of all backgrounds and contribute to peace in the region.
The Montreal-born, multi-Academy Award-winner Jake Eberts is executive producer of Jerusalem, which is scheduled to open in 2013. The Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (CFHU) is a partner in the project, and will be one of the beneficiaries of the box office and royalties.
The CFHU held a gala evening Nov. 28 at the Montreal Science Centre at the Old Port, where Eberts was honoured and a trailer of the film-in-progress was screened.
The budget is $8 million (US) and another $3 million will be needed to market and distribute Jerusalem, said director and scriptwriter Daniel Ferguson, a Montrealer who graduated from McGill University in religious studies. About $4 million has been raised so far.
Financing will be entirely from charitable donations, and contributions through the CFHU are fully tax deductible.
Eberts, who is not Jewish, has been fascinated by the city of Jerusalem ever since he and his wife of 43 years, Fiona, spent their honeymoon there.
The media may focus on the city’s conflicts, but Eberts believes Jerusalem, with its diverse peoples and sacredness to the monotheistic faiths, can teach the world much about intercultural harmony. “It remains the beating heart of our world today,” he said, “stirring the imagination of billions.”
“We want to shift the discussion of Jerusalem beyond the politics to why this relatively small city captivates us so much,” Ferguson added.
This message of pluralism and co-existence is one the CFHU is eager to spread globally, said national executive director Rami Kleinmann. “This film has the potential to be the largest educational project on Jerusalem ever.”
Eberts is raising money internationally for Jerusalem, reaching out in particular to the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. The 400 guests at the $250-a-ticket Science Centre event were a diverse group.
Jerusalem’s earnings will go to various causes in Jerusalem, on a non-sectarian basis. At Hebrew University, the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada will benefit.
Jerusalem’s history, spiritual significance and earthly beauty will be the focus, but politics cannot and should not be ignored, said Ferguson. Everyday life in the city today will be explored from the perspective of three teens, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, who are still being cast.
“The story of Jerusalem will be told through the people who call it home,” he said. “The competing narratives give the place its dynamism and energy.”
The filmmakers are working with an advisory board of more than 30, including Hebrew University of Jerusalem faculty. “On the theological, political and community levels, we are determined to get it right, and it is complex. Every word is looked at carefully,” Ferguson said.
The excerpt shown introduces Jerusalem’s successive conquerors and occupants over the centuries, diverse surrounding geography, and mystical architecture through breathtaking aerial views of the city approached from the four directions.
That trailer has received 1.2 million hits online in five months.
Having previously made the Imax film Journey to Mecca, the producers feel they have friends in the Muslim world they can tap for this one.
While Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and central to Jews for 3,000 years, Israeli Consul General Joel Lion said, “There would be no Christianity without Jerusalem, and where would Islam be if Muhammad had not risen to heaven from Jerusalem?”
Eberts, who has produced more than 50 films, including Chariots of Fire, Dances with Wolves and Gandhi, which have won 37 Oscars, including four for best picture, maintains strong ties to Quebec. Although his principal residences are in London and Paris, he has homes in Montreal and North Hatley.
The evening was co-chaired by Ari Brojde, incoming president of the CFHU’s Montreal chapter, and Matthew Price-Gallagher, a longtime friend of Eberts.
In addition to its Imax format, Jerusalem will be made available for television, DVD and online viewing, thereby vastly expanding its potential audience.
Actor Kevin Costner, honorary chair of the evening, sent a videotaped tribute to Eberts, whom he regards as a mentor and friend, from Romania where he is shooting a movie.
In conjunction with the filmmakers, the CFHU is running an essay contest for high school students in Montreal on why it is important for everyone to learn about Jerusalem. There are plans to make it Canada-wide, with the top winner and his or her family earning a trip to the city.
Eberts was presented with the CFHU’s first Key of Knowledge Award by renowned Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand. He described Eberts as “Don Quixote of the movie business, able to get money for films about different subjects that are not at all in vogue.”