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‘A special place': ‘Jerusalem’ documents religions, residents and why the area is called the Holy Land

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A sunset featured in the film “Jerusalem.”

A sunset featured in the film “Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem – it’s an area that has seen war for thousands of years. Yet, it’s also an area that is sacred to religions such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

For Daniel Ferguson, telling its story was something he needed to do.

From left, director Daniel Ferguson and narrator Benedict Cumberbatch work on the narration of the film.

From left, director Daniel Ferguson and narrator Benedict Cumberbatch work on the narration of the film.

The Canadian filmmaker set out in 2009 and spent the next five years putting together a story on the area’s importance to religion and its people.

He also found some answers about why the area is deemed “the Holy Land.”

“This film became a huge labor of love for me,” he says. “There were many hurdles in front of me. But I had to use different ways to get the access that I’ve had.”

His 43-minute film, “Jerusalem,” has been screened worldwide for audiences and is now going to play at the Lockheed Martin Dynatheater at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science beginning Saturday, April 12.

While directing the $8 million film, Ferguson was given plenty of access. He was granted permission to fly over the area to capture aerial views and took advantage of each opportunity he was given. He also had access to some of the most sacred places in Old City, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee and the mountain fortress of Masada.

“No one besides the army gets to go up and fly,” he says. “When we were granted permission, we shot as much footage as we could because we didn’t know if we’d get permission again. Turns out, we didn’t. I’m thankful that we saw in advance to avoid having a hole in the movie.”

Ferguson says the film tells multiple stories.

He says there’s the story of what it means to live in Jerusalem today from the perspective of three female teenagers – Farah Ammouri, Nadia Tadros and Revital Zacharie.

“Each teenager represents Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities,” he says. “Their families have long-standing ties to the city and we tell that story.”

Ferguson says there’s the detective story told by the narrator, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the renowned archaeologist Jodi Magness, which looks at how we know what we know about Jerusalem’s past and reveals some of its mysteries.

An excavation site in Jerusalem is overseen by  Jodi Magness.

An excavation site in Jerusalem is overseen by
Jodi Magness.

“Finally there is a spiritual story looking at how Jerusalem became a holy city for half our population, culminating with ancient rituals as they are still performed in Jerusalem today, during Passover, Easter and Ramadan,” he says. “We’ve tried to weave each of these stories together so that each informs the other and the audience comes away with a better understanding of this extraordinary and complex region.”

Ferguson says after five years of work and editing with a fine-tooth comb, he is happy with the result.

He says a lot of people put trust in him to tell a balanced story.

“I talked to a lot of people and had plenty cups of tea trying to persuade people,” he says. “In the end, the entire movie tells a story without an agenda. It’s not being too religious or political. It states the facts on why Jerusalem is a special place.”

An aerial view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

An aerial view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

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