The air above Jerusalem is rife with hopes and dreams
Like the air that hangs over industrial towns
It’s hard to breathe
Jerusalem is not made of stone but rather, of longing – a place built on longing and contradictions. An ancient city shrouded in mystery, that is also the capital of Israel and the country’s largest metropolis – a lively, bustling home to nearly one million residents of all faiths and denominations. Jerusalem’s sheer wealth of social diversity, for all its potential and inherent conflicts, has long made it a prime filming location since the earliest days of Israeli filmmaking. However, this past decade saw its popularity soar to new heights, both with local and foreign filmmakers. One may be tempted to assume that the reasons for that are the city’s several film schools and The Jerusalem Film & Television Fund that’s been known to offer a range of financial incentives to films in which the city plays a major role – however, trawling through the archives reveals that Jerusalem has, in fact, long since been an onscreen fixture.
3,500 years’ worth of history, faith, war, architecture, and culture; 42 empires that have left their mark in countless songs, poems, books, and a range of other creative works of all media, styles, and genres – all of these comprise the geological layers of which the city is made. This collection will be film-centric, with a focus on narrative fiction – be it comedies, family dramas, tragedies, etc. – whose storylines all share the same Jerusalem setting.
“Anyone remember the German Colony’s Jerusalem Pool?” asked a member in one of my Facebook groups one morning which, of course, instantly triggered a tsunami of Likes and Shares. As a Jerusalemite, myself, my memory too had quite the jolt: how we would sneak into the pool at night, drunk on the delirium of youth. Those with a local’s perspective of the city will surely have their own distinct catalogue of places and locations that bring back waves of memories and nostalgia. Certain hangouts, schools and academic institutions, bus routes even! All these have featured prominently in films from this past decade.
In Joseph Cedar’s 2011 film, Footnote, both The Hebrew University and Rehavia [Jerusalem neighbourhood] played a key role in characterising the two main protagonists – a father and son, both of whom are professors in the Talmud department. In one of the film’s most mesmerising scenes, Prof. Uriel Skolnick (Lior Ashkenazi) is seen standing in the iconic and bleak Department of Education compound, on the corner of Hanevi’im and Shivtei Israel Street. Meanwhile, the camera lens appears to have picked up the nearby church steeples which, suddenly, endow the otherwise dreary compound with a deep, cosmic meaning (later, as the camera heads indoors, the corridors inside the Department of Education compound too, come alive). Emil Ben-Shimon’s 2016 film, The Women’s Balcony prominently features the city’s Bukharan Quarter, built in 1894 by Bukharan Jewish immigrants. The Moussaieff religious-traditional congregation, named after the community’s founding rabbi, Shlomo Moussaieff who built the neighbourhood’s first synagogue, sets the film’s whole atmosphere. Notably, the abovementioned films are but two examples.
A great many Jerusalemite film protagonists in fact originate in fine Hebrew literature. Two prime examples that come to mind are the protagonists of Yoram Kaniuk’s novel, Himmo, King of Jerusalem (adapted by Amos Guttman, 1987), and A.B. Yehoshua’s Three Days and a Child (Uri Zohar, 1967). Jerusalem fairy tales, too – the majority of which are of theological origins, have ended up in Israeli cinemas after being adapted to the big screen.
This collection will be exploring Jerusalem in contemporary film, from an acknowledgement of the profound transformation the city’s image has undergone in recent years (2010-2022). Twenty-first century Jerusalem boasts the iconic Chords Bridge (aka Bridge of Strings), built at the main entrance to the city which is gradually seeing its own skyline transform with an increasing number of high risers popping up all over town. A capital city where foreign consulates and government offices have been relocating their offices, and where arts and culture centres have been opening up left, right, and centre. A Jerusalem of listed and restored synagogues that is also a bustling metropolis with an eye-wateringly huge underground national rail station, and whose main mode of local rapid transport is the city’s [and as of now, Israel’s only] light rail network.
But as the progress juggernaut ploughs on, it seems as if on top of the Old City walls, Jerusalem has seen many other invisible walls erected where those who pass through can’t help but intermingle – from the staunchly secular vs. the increasingly radicalised ultraorthodox, to East Jerusalem Arabs absorbed into the city’s urbanised Western ways, and the nonstop traffic of tourists and migrants – Israeli and foreign in equal measure – some of whom are only passing through for hours if not days, whereas others end up staying for decades. And just as the city’s fault lines remain ever-changing, so do the relationships between its denizens. The following collection brings you a taste of all of the above.