I’ve never been to Jerusalem, but it’s always been part of my life. Raised Catholic, I grew up hearing daily stories about historical happenings in the Holy Land. As an adult, I’ve been attentive to the political and moral debates that center on Jerusalem and its environs’ occupation and governance, with global ramifications. Friends and family have made trips that could in many cases be called pilgrimages, coming back with awestruck stories.
I was glad, then, for the opportunity to spend an enlightening and moving hour in Jerusalem via a documentary that’s opening at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Omnitheater on January 8 as part of the 2016 Omnifest. In addition to the new Jerusalem, this year’s version of the annual showcase will include Forces of Nature, Humpback Whales, Mysteries of the Great Lakes, and Tropical Rainforest.
Archaeological specials like Jerusalem don’t promise the thrill factor of something like Forces of Nature, but they’re among the most enlightening films available for the Omnitheater’s giant screen. Daniel Ferguson’s Jerusalem combines sweeping shots of the city’s starkly beautiful environment with tastefully CGI-assisted explanations of Jerusalem’s multilayered history.
There’s a human element courtesy of three young women — one Christian, one Jewish, and one Muslim. Each takes us on a tour of her respective neighborhood, and the large-format film immerses viewers in the bustling life of the city, from crowded markets to solemn rituals. (I wouldn’t have minded the three women taking on expanded roles, obviating the incongruously British narrator Benedict Cumberbatch.)
Though the focus throughout is on amicable interfaith understanding, the film ends on a strikingly ambiguous note, and Ferguson subtly invites us to reflect on the potential conflicts (like, say, continent-spanning wars) that can arise from three major faiths’ having their holiest shrines sitting almost literally on top of one another.
As Minnesota rolls into the heart of winter, Jerusalem and the rest of the Omnifest offerings are easy to recommend as an escape — though certainly not a mindless one.