The city of Jerusalem is sacred to three of the world's major religions. The list of events that are believed to have happened there for Muslims, Christians, and Jews is mind-boggling. The character and layout of the old city can also be hard to grasp if you haven't been there for yourself.
However, now you can get a taste of it with the stunning new documentary Jerusalem, currently playing at the Pacific Science Center Boeing IMAX Theater.
Jerusalem's filmmakers spent three years getting permission to bring helicopters into the strict no fly zone above the Old City and took out newspaper advertisements to explain why there would be helicopters mounted with the large IMAX cameras flying so low over the city. The effort was well worth it. The aerial images are rich and informative and serve to explain how the holy sites of Muslims, Jews, and Christians are in some cases literally on top of each other within the less than square mile of the Old City.
This proximity has led to centuries of continual conflict but remarkably the film manages to avoid this subject almost completely. As it takes viewers high above the city and deep below it into archaeological excavations there are mentions of how the city was invaded and changed hands, how temples were destroyed and rebuilt in layer upon layer, but the conflict is only discussed in an ancient historical context.
The film features three young women, each representing one of the major religions. They talk about their lives, the ceremonies and traditions of their families and communities, but at no time do they mention the strife that has gripped the city for so long and must be a part of their daily lives. To my mind, to be an accurate portrait of life in modern Jerusalem there needs to be some mention of Jerusalem's position straddling the border of Israel and Palestine and the difficulties that presents to the citizens of the city. It's not an easy subject but eliminating any mention of it creates a bias that calls into question the value of the film as an accurate document of Jerusalem.
That said, there is much to appreciate. Parts of the film felt very much like a National Geographic travelogue. Just like the experience of flipping through the magazine the IMAX cinematography creates a visually stunning immersive experience that makes you feel as if you're wandering through the market stalls of the old city.
I found myself wishing they had Odorama available so we could experience not only the sights and sounds of colorful spice merchants and dark cavernous shops but the smells as well. If you go I recommend bringing along a small container of cumin or nutmeg to sniff to enhance the experience even further.
In addition to the Old City of Jerusalem the film also briefly explores nearby landmarks like the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, and the fortress of Masada. These scenes take full advantage of the IMAX format's ability to simulate the sense of flying as you look straight down over the plateau of Masada or wind through a valley past the cliff-hanging Monastery of St. George.
The visual splendor and simple cultural approach to the subject make Jerusalem a relatively accessible film for kids about a city steeped in a very complex history. It will help if children going to see the film have some background in at least one of the religions so they have some context. While kids of any age might get something out of it I think Jerusalem is best suited for tweens and teens who are prepared to explore the complexity of this ancient city's intertwined religious history.
If you go ...
When/where: Jerusalem is 43 minutes long and is showing four times a day at the Pacific Science Center's Boeing IMAX Theater through January 5, 2014.
Tickets: Purchase tickets online.
About the author: John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.