The Canadian-born, Oscar-winning producer Jake Eberts plans to release an IMAX documentary about the city of Jerusalem with the goal of reaching 100 million viewers.
To aid that end, Eberts screened a rough cut of the movie during a benefit in his honor hosted by Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Nov. 28 in Montreal.
His ambitious plans are a tall order for any documentary, let alone one about the contentious little city at the center of the world’s three major religions, but Eberts sounds like the kind of guy who gets things done. For starters, he has a proven track record—a whopping 37 Oscars—and a film resume that contains an obscene amount of classics: “Chariots of Fire,” “Gandhi,” “Dances With Wolves,” “The Name of the Rose,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and “A River Runs Through It.” (even more impressive is that he won his Oscars during the days when Oscar really mattered).
Also to his credit, Eberts is good with numbers: he was a Wall Street banker before making his way to movies.
For a non-Jew, Eberts’ plans sound eerily reminiscent of the champagne dreams held by many Israel supporters who long for new messaging about “the real Israel” and that could divert attention away from the country’s conflict side.
According to the Canadian Jewish News, Eberts was inspired to tell the tale of Jerusalem after he and his wife spent their honeymoon there more than forty years ago. Now he is partnering with the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to produce the project, and they will in turn stand to benefit from box office revenues and royalties.
But it could be awhile before the film attempts to “shift the discussion of Jerusalem beyond the politics” as director and scriptwriter Daniel Ferguson put it, since the film is a work in progress and still has to raise more than half of its projected $11 million budget. And even though Ferguson, a graduate of McGill University’s religious studies program, plans to focus the doc on “Jerusalem’s history, spiritual significance and earthly beauty” he admitted that he will also explore the “competing narratives” that characterize the region.
While the ultimate goals for the film are rather lofty, financially, socially and politically, there is passion for the project, which, as anyone in Hollywood will tell you, is a powerful ingredient and a promising start.
“The story of Jerusalem will be told through the people who call it home,” he said. “The competing narratives give the place its dynamism and energy.”
The filmmakers are working with an advisory board of more than 30, including Hebrew University of Jerusalem faculty. “On the theological, political and community levels, we are determined to get it right, and it is complex. Every word is looked at carefully,” Ferguson said.
The excerpt shown introduces Jerusalem’s successive conquerors and occupants over the centuries, diverse surrounding geography, and mystical architecture through breathtaking aerial views of the city approached from the four directions.
That trailer has received 1.2 million hits online in five months.