In the beginning, director Daniel Ferguson wasn’t keen on making a film about Jerusalem.
“I didn’t want to do this film at first. I thought it had been done.”
But he discovered the holy city always has one more movie in it, and more than a few surprises. The film Ferguson made, the 45-minute “Jerusalem,” opens Friday at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s IMAX Theater.
Shot in 3-D and wide-screen formats, “Jerusalem” focuses on the square-mile of the Old City, which Ferguson says provides “eye popping, intoxicating” images just waiting for 3-D audiences.
The film avoids politics. And it seeks to skirt the equally distorting Jerusalem-as-museum approach. What’s left? Plenty, it turns out.
With narration by Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek, Sherlock), “Jerusalem” takes viewers back to the beginning, or earlier, to a large outcrop near the city of the Jebusites, whose inhabitants would go to the rock formation and worship the sun.
“I had not seen anything about pagan Jerusalem in film before,” Ferguson says in a telephone interview.
After David conquered the city, his son, Solomon, built the Israelite Temple on that outcrop. And after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, Jerusalem became a Christian holy city. When the Muslims conquered the city, they built the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, above the ancient outcrop.
Ferguson and his crew took their cameras to the Temple Mount, and shot the Dome of the Rock and the nearby al-Aqsa Mosque. It took three years of negotiations with Muslim authorities, and the governments of Israel and Jordan to secure permission, Ferguson says. Shooting from the air required accompaniment by Israeli police.
The director also went underground. Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, he found 1,700-year-old graffiti etched in stone: a ship and the words, “O, Lord, we have come here.”
The film asks, “Why Jerusalem?” How did a remote mountain town become the “navel of the world?”
“Jerusalem is many cities: imagined and real; past and present; Jewish, Christian, Muslim and secular,” the film declares.
Archaeologist Jodi Magness helps explain the story of the many Jerusalems, one built upon the other over the millennia.
But it is Ferguson’s use of three young Jerusalem women — a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim — that makes the multiple, overlapping Jerusalems that exist today vivid and comprehensible.
Revital Zacharia, Farah Amouri and Nadia Tadros are teenagers who live in the Old City. We see life there through their very different eyes as they walk through the streets, visit holy sites within steps of their homes and celebrate festivals with their families.
“The girls would bring me to some of the exact same places in the city, but tell me different things,” Ferguson has said.
As Jerusalemites, each is aware of having a unique status.
“I see people who wanted to come here their whole lives,” Nadia says during a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. “I can come to the church anytime I want.”
It is the three woman who show Jerusalem as a place of people. Through them, Ferguson is able, for just a moment, to bring their multiple Jerusalems together.
Jerusalem opens Friday at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s IMAX Museum. For information, go to www.si.edu/imax