The subjects of Jerusalem, a documentary that tells the historical, spiritual and multicultural story of the Old City from the point of view of three young women – one Jewish, one Christian and one Muslim – were in Toronto for its Canadian premiere last week.
The 45-minute National Geographic Entertainment film, produced in partnership with the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University (CFHU), takes the viewer on a journey that features some of Jerusalem’s most spectacular sites, including, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and Masada.
Narrated by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Jerusalem was screened Feb. 25 at the Ontario Science Centre’s IMAX Dome theatre. It shows the viewer what makes the city so special in the eyes of three Jerusalemites, Farah Ammouri, who is Muslim, Nadia Tadros, who is Christian, and Revital Zacharie, who is Jewish.
The three women, who attended an intimate reception hosted by CFHU board members Judy Bronfman and Karen Radomski Simpson the night before the screening, were on hand after the Science Centre event to answer questions about their experience making the film and how it has changed their perspectives.
Daniel Ferguson, the Montreal-born writer and director of Jerusalem, said in addition to wanting to produce a film that used breathtaking aerial shots as well as street-level footage to make viewers feel like they had just visited the city, he also wanted to tell a human story, rather than a political one.
“When we started this film, there was a sense among the filmmakers that everyone in North America and certainly in Europe has this kind of Israel-Palestine fatigue,” Ferguson said.
He said leaving politics out of the film was less about ignoring the conflict and more about taking a deeper look into why the city is special to nearly half the world’s population.
“Instead of making the conflict or the politics front and centre… I think the film needs to be timeless and it needs to answer two questions: why do we love the city in our own way, and how does that inform our understanding of the issues at hand?” he said.
“I think everyone is curious about Jerusalem. It doesn’t matter which religion [you are]. I think a lot of people want to go there, but they’re frightened by whatever their perception of the security situation is. But the reality is that this is a chance for people to… gain a perspective on the city and obviously, in a limited time, and feel like they’ve travelled to Jerusalem. That’s the real goal.”
Ammouri, who is currently attending college in the United States, said that when she speaks to people about where she comes from, they “are very scared to go to Jerusalem, because they think of it as a city of conflict and tension. Of course, you can’t deny that the conflict and tension exists… but we are just approaching Jerusalem from a different perspective, from three girls and how we live our daily lives.”
Although the film, five years in the making, aims to explain why the city is so important to the three Abrahamic faiths, it was also a learning opportunity for its three subjects.
“I already had an idea of what Christianity is, but I wasn’t very much aware of Judaism,” Ammouri said.
“Of course, through the movie, I was able to be comfortable around them, asking questions and answering questions they had. Through the film, I was able to meet wonderful people who have changed my view on the Old City and to realize that it is important to everyone.”
Tadros said that when she met Ammouri and Zacharie, she was surprised by how many interests they shared.
“I learned that they are a lot like us. We shared the same jokes, we liked the same movies, we go to the same places, so at first I was shocked that we do the same things… I hope everyone in Jerusalem can figure this out,” Tadros said.
Zacharie, who was also surprised by how much they had in common with one another, said she believes that more communication between the communities in the Old City’s four quarters – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian – is important.
“We do meet each other – I’ve met many Arabs in Jerusalem – but I hope that we’ll have a chance to speak more and to understand one another’s perspectives,” Zacharie said.
Jerusalem opens March 7 at the Ontario Science Centre.