Mar 7, 2014

'Jerusalem' teen subjects grow into their roles away from the big screen



(CNS photo/courtesy Jerusalem US LP)

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Despite having been seen in theaters with Imax and 3-D capabilities, the three teen girls featured in the movie "Jerusalem" seem much bigger in real life.

And it's not because they're a little older now than when they were filmed. The girls -- one Christian, one Jewish and one Muslim -- display an effortless maturity well beyond their years.

Never having known each other before filming began, their first encounter was on a street in the Old City that serves as the final scene of the movie.

They subsequently talked with one another with the cameras rolling for possible inclusion in "Jerusalem," but even as teenagers, their minds were so full of presuppositions and stereotypes that the result was unsatisfying.

Not knowing who would be cast as her counterparts, "I thought the Muslim girl would be dressed in a hijab. I thought the Jewish girl would be dressed in black and white" garb worn by Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews, said Nadia Tadros, now 20, the Christian featured in "Jerusalem." Each of them later individually asked director Daniel Ferguson to not include their conversation in the movie.

Tadros, whose mother is a Latin-rite Catholic and whose father is Greek Orthodox, said that during a two-week late-winter tour of the United States and Canada, they have since found out they're all "crazy about shoes," but also proud of their respective religious and cultural traditions.

Nor have they been afraid to talk among themselves about the political issues that have roiled Jerusalem, the Middle East and its interfaith inhabitants throughout the centuries.

"I describe it as an open relationship," said Revital Zacharie, 19, who represented Judaism in "Jerusalem." She was headed back to continue her compulsory service in the Israeli military after the tour ended.

But not all are returning to Jerusalem. Farah Ammouri, now 18, was making a comparatively short flight from Washington to Dallas, where she is studying at a nearby college. "My brother lives in Dallas and my father has business in Dallas," said Ammouri, the movie's Muslim representative, during a March 4 interview with Catholic News Service in Washington.

Ammouri, a Palestinian, graduated last year from a Catholic high school, Rosary Sisters' High School, in Jerusalem. In fact, it was the same high school from which Tadros graduated. "I knew of her," Ammouri said of Tadros, but never forged a friendship until the movie was being made, and that friendship has grown even more during the North American trip.

The three young women, none of whom claim English as a first language but all of whom can speak at least four languages, were cast in the movie in different ways.

Ammouri said a notice was posted on a bulletin board at Rosary Sisters' High School looking for Muslims who had lived in the Old City. Zacharie said she saw a Facebook posting and was initially skeptical, but decided to respond. Tadros said she was grooming her younger brother to be chosen as the Christian representative, but in the interview session with the movie's producers "I did all the talking," she said.

Even though she was beyond the age the producers were looking for, "they decided they could go with a mature woman," Tadros joked.

That final scene, where all three appear together for the only time in the film, looks as if it was arranged by chance. Not so, they said. "One hundred and twenty takes," Tadros sighed. None of them currently live in the Old City, which is the focus of "Jerusalem," although all worship there. Zacharie has cousins who live there -- "having cousins who live in the Old City is a big deal," she said -- and Tadros has worked there the last five years.

They all rue the fact that "Jerusalem" is only 45 minutes long. All three get equal time, but also have to cede screen time to an archaeologist, Jodi Magness, who literally unearths truths about the city from digging expeditions conducted before new construction takes place. Zacharie, for instance, said she would have liked the film to examine the greater diversity of Jewish life than what the movie displays, and for the film to show the Jerusalem that has grown beyond the walls of the Old City.

The film has not yet been seen there; Zacharie said the equal treatment given to each of the Abrahamic faiths would upset some Jews who want their religion to be dominant on screen.

Back home, Tadros, because of her dual Christian heritage, will celebrate "two Easters" to go along with the "two Christmases" celebrated on different days by Catholics and the Orthodox. She is also enrolled at two schools: Birzeit University in the Palestinian territories for marketing, and Magnificat Institute in Jerusalem for vocal studies. A soprano with a wide range, she has already recorded several songs she's written, is seen in "Jerusalem" with a guitar slung across her back, and is preparing to sing as part of Pope Francis' late-May visit to the Holy Land.

During a March 4 screening of some "Jerusalem" scenes and behind-the-scenes clips at George Washington University in Washington, Tadros remarked: "There is a wall surrounding the city. But there are another million walls inside the city -- borders that will need forever to be broken."

Ammouri, Tadros and Zacharie have taken the first steps to crumbling those barriers.