Film showing at Thanksgiving Point shares an up-close look at Holy Land

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Jerusalem's iconic Citadel (now the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem) is a fortress with archaeological findings spanning more than 2,000 years.

Dustin Farrell, Jerusalem 3D US LP

Transformative, immersive and transcendent are a few words used to describe the new National Geographic film “Jerusalem.”

The IMAX 3D film opened Oct. 18 at Thanksgiving Point’s Mammoth Screen Theater. The 43-minute film delves into the details of what producer Taran Davies called “one of the most storied cities on earth.”

Thanksgiving Point marketing director Britnee Johnson said the theater partnered with National Geographic in June 2012 after the six-story theater received National Geographic’s stamp of approval for a quality movie experience. It is the only theater in Utah and one of only 14 theaters in the nation showing “Jerusalem” so far.

Johnson said there was a lot of excitement surrounding the release of this film in particular. People called to pre-order tickets — something she hadn’t really seen done before.

“We could definitely tell that this was our most popular (film) we have premiered at Thanksgiving Point so far,” she said.

“Jerusalem,” narrated by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, follows the stories of three girls, each representing the separate faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It provides a mix of Holy Land experiences, from varied landscapes to intimate glimpses at ceremonies, celebrations and what life is like in the city. It ultimately answers, according to the film’s website, www.jerusalemthemovie.com, the question “Why Jerusalem?”

“I think it’s a fascinating opportunity to take a journey to the heart of the world and to come to understand it from all of these different perspectives,” Davies said.

Davies called the opportunity to capture Jerusalem in such a way a dream.

“It’s something that people have been trying to make a film about in the giant screen format for years but haven’t been able to do so, and largely because it’s just a very complex region,” he said.

Reed Smoot, the director of photography for the film and a Utah native, was eager to join the project.

“The combination of the giant screen and the 3D aspect really aided in telling the story on a multi-level approach,” he said. Smoot has worked on numerous Jerusalem projects since the 1970s. “They were all really wonderful experiences, but I never really felt like we captured the story on those levels.”

Smoot credited film director Daniel Ferguson with opening the possibilities for the project, describing how the director did his research and made many connections. Ferguson strove to make a film that was honest and completely unbiased, not leaning toward being pro one religion over another.

“As a result, we just had such incredible access. It was just very, very rewarding.”

That access included crowd-free work in ancient buildings and low-flying aerial shots — something rarely approved in that region.

"Jerusalem is a place that can be accessed by pretty much anybody that makes the effort to go there,” Smoot said. “So it was up to us to tell the story in a unique way that made it interesting and fresh for people who have visited there.”

Smoot said the project was more than satisfying and believes the film achieved the proper balance of wide aerial shots and intimate 3D shots in the middle of crowds and processions. He said that about the only things missing in the immersive film are the smells of the marketplace.

Groups from Brigham Young University reserved showings for the Oct. 18 premier. Smoot attended the screenings, held for alumni of BYU’s Jerusalem program, and did a question and answer session with the attendees. Smoot, a BYU graduate, was pleased with the students’ reaction.

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