It took inspiration, five years and hundreds of cups of tea to make Jerusalem, a documentary about the iconic city sacred to three of the world’s religions.
Canadian filmmaker Daniel Ferguson — who wrote, directed and was one of the producers of the film — says the film was able to “go beyond the politics, go beyond the conflict, and realize the roots of the universal attachment, the universal love for Jerusalem.”
The documentary explores the four quarters of the Old City: Armenian (Christian), Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
The filmmakers gained special permission to shoot in a no-fly zone in order to capture large-format aerial images of the Old City and surrounding region for the first time. Viewers are taken through history to help understand why sites such as the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock remain holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims today.
A unique feature of the film is seeing Jerusalem through the eyes of three young women: a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim. They are not actors and discovered — while on tour for the film — that they have a lot in common: the same favourite store, music and dances. But each looks at the city from a different perspective.
Three views of one city
Ferguson asked Revital, Nadia and Farah to each give him a tour of her Jerusalem. Revital took him to synagogues and the Western Wall, Nadia to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Farah to a mosque.
While they took him to similar places, often to the same intersection of the street, he recalled they each came with their own narratives. Each loves Jerusalem, but in her own way, he said.
“It’s okay to disagree about your narratives. We have competing and complementary narratives. And that’s what gives Jerusalem its richness.”
About the author
Shelina Jaffer is a fellow in global journalism at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and an intern at CBC Radio's Tapestry.
As a result of her travels and work experience as a teacher in Japan, England, Lebanon and Canada, she has had the opportunity to interact with and experience a broad range of cultures and religious faiths — sparking an interest the role of faith at the crossroads of the modern world as well as ancient faiths and cultures.
The three had doubts about participating in the film. For instance, Nadia was worried that the film would be about “good guys” and “bad guys” — and she did not want to be the “bad” guy. But she found the movie to be beautiful because nothing felt forced and there was no judgment.
"The truth is, we don’t know anything about each other. I didn’t know a lot about Jews or Islam before; now I know more and I am certainly more curious,” she said.
Farah enjoyed seeing the scenes of what was close to her co-stars' hearts.
“Honestly, when I first watched the movie, my favourite parts were Nadia’s and Revital’s, because they were so moving and something you can’t be part of in real life.”
For Revital, participating in the film was an opportunity to start communicating with other communities in the city. She said that watching a scene in Jerusalem was the first time she had seen a Ramadan party — it felt like she was actually there.
The rituals and practices from all religious communities in the city capture the spirit of Jerusalem. The film depicts the “amazing freedom of worship and of religion that we have in Israel. It’s not something we can take for granted, especially not in the Middle East,” Revital said.
As the young women took in the sights and sounds of multicultural Canada at Jerusalem's premiere in Toronto, they were struck by its diversity.
At home, Nadia says, “our diversity is complicated.”
Following its debut in September, Jerusalem is rolling out in IMAX theatres across North America, Australia and Europe.
To find where it's screening check out jerusalemthemovie.com.