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. —Taran Davies, producer
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.
“So many of them were just thankful for being able to have a renewal of what they felt and experienced and learned while they were there,” he said. “It was sort of just a wonderful return.”
“Jerusalem” has a particular significance for many Utah residents, Smoot said.
“I think it reinforces Mormon theology and Mormon belief,” he said. “I think it allows us to see where we fit in, even though it doesn’t explore Mormonism specifically.”
In fact, he said, it is truly enlightening to any audience member of any faith, providing a glimpse of the complexities of other religions and really showing just what makes the Holy Land holy to so many. It's not only a good renewal but also a good introduction.
Smoot ventured so far as to say that it could be an even better experience than in person, seeing that even those who make it there in person may not be in the right place at the right time to catch certain things.
”I mean, how many people get a chance to experience Ramadan up close and personal?” he said. “Very few people.”
Davies said that “Jerusalem” can touch people in rare ways and that it is a truly emotionally moving film.
“There’s a great beauty to it at all levels — on a human level, on a spiritual level and on an educational level,” he said.
That beauty really affected Smoot during the filmmaking. He described how the process was a huge learning experience for him. He even had the special opportunity of having his daughters on set, getting a fresh view of Jerusalem by seeing a life-changing experience through their eyes.
“The whole objective in being a filmmaker is the ability to share things that we experience,” he said. And what he experienced was a powerful encounter with the Holy Land.
“Jerusalem” will run at Thanksgiving Point’s Mammoth Screen Theater for about six months. Tickets are $7.50 for adults and $6 for children and seniors. For more information on the showings and pricing, visit www.thanksgivingpoint.org. For more information on “Jerusalem,” visit www.jerusalemthemovie.com.
It will also begin playing at Clark Planetarium's ATK IMAX Theatre on Nov. 22. Tickets there are $9 for adults and $7 for children, and $7 for shows beginning before 5 p.m. More information is available at www.clarkplanetarium.org.