Wednesday, February 26, 2014

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PRESENTS: JERUSALEM Laura Steen of the Toronto office of Allied Integrated Marketing offered me an opportunity to attend the Canadian advance media screening of Jerusalem, at the Ontario Science Centre, I readily accepted.  Jerusalem is big in our life – my wife has gone twice, I once with  In many respects, the trip galvanized my love for the city.  I regret not having done a similar trip many years earlier.  However, better late than never. knew the film, as advertised to the press, was not going to be about Jerusalem’s pivotal role in my Christian faith.  I could not expect that of the key players that made it possible – very capable people like Director, Producer, and Writer Daniel Ferguson who has done excellent work on previous IMAX movies (yes, the film is delivered to us courtesy of four different cameras – an IMAX 15-perf 65mm; a Sony F65; a RED Epic; and a Nikon D800E); Producer George Duffield; Executive Producer Jake Eberts (who has 65 Oscar nominations, 27 of which he won; films include Gandhi, The Killing Fields, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances with Wolves, A River Runs Through It, and more); National Geographic; local film Patrons Mohammad & Najla Zaibak and Mark & Suzanne Cohon; and of course, the very public Ontario Science Centre.  No, this film was clearly going to challenge my ‘ownership’ perspective of this much-coveted part of the world that at one time was seen and acted as the centre of the known world, being well-situated geographically where Africa, Asia, and Europe meet.

The city is presented through the eyes, thoughts, lives, and hopes of three very real lovers of Jerusalem with strong ties to their beloved place of residence as well as their respective faiths – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. these brilliant and forthright young women, the film aims to change the way people think about Jerusalem.  It certainly does that.  It is evident, as one of the ladies said in the press conference after the screening, “the beautiful ancient wall around the Old City of Jerusalem is not the only wall in the place; while that one needs to remain, the social walls inside need to be torn down.”  The reference was to the fact that all three of the residents felt their people lived alone in the city, not knowing much about their neighbors who held two other religious and cultural perspectives.  But although the need was recognized as to what had to change, all agreed this was not “yet the time”.

Ferguson also wanted the viewer to feel he/she had actually been to Jerusalem.  He wanted to achieve that in a unique way, trying to capture over 5,000 years of history in 45 minutes by putting the camera into very special places and giving us glimpses of Jerusalem most of us would never see on our own or in groups.  Getting permission for some of those shots – low aerials over the city, underground tunnels and tombs, and even the now closed to non-Muslims Dome of the Rock – took years to obtain.  But it was indeed worth the wait. 
It took me very little time to declare the film a success from a cinematic perspective.  It took me much longer to determine just how I felt about its purpose.  I noted a couple of things in the script.  When an American archaeologist shares some of the events that took place on the famous “rock” over which the Islamic Dome of the Rock now stands, she was very careful to state that “here Abraham was tested when he was asked to sacrifice his son” with no mention the son’s name.  For the Christian and Jew it was Isaac; for many Muslims it was Ishmael.  (You can read more on this at:  I also noticed that even where all three religions were in agreement on a historical event that had significant religious, and often Christian implications such as the aspects of Christ’s existence and ministry, the script, otherwise handled excellently by all, including narrator Benedict Cumberbatch (you’ll remember him from his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, as well as the movie War Horse, The Hobbit Trilogy, Sherlock, and Star Trek into Darkness) often simply introduced it by saying “it is believed” or something similar.  The film could have benefitted both in its credibility as being capable of handling a religious topic – for as much as Jerusalem is a physical place, there is global agreement that it has spiritual significance – and in its purpose of trying to help us see it differently by not taking the “politically correct” or “scientific defense” of such facts.

In the Gospels, Jesus asks one of His close disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  That’s a question that everyone ultimately answers, even by totally refusing to answer it or ignoring it.  As I watched Jerusalem I wondered how many might be facilitated in their attempt to provide an answer if they first considered the question, “What then is Jerusalem?”  The film goes a long way to answer that comprehensively.
Jerusalem opens March 7th at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto (, but hopefully will be seen elsewhere in Canada soon.  It has already opened in other countries.  See it.  Go there.  Better late; never is not an option. 
-- Ken B. Godevenos, Toronto.   February 26, 2014


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