January 5, 2011 / 9:34 AM / 7 years ago

UFOs and hope: films probe "future" Jerusalem

4 Min Read

JERUSALEM (Reuters Life!) - Will aliens and zombies rampage through these ancient stone causeways, forcing Israelis and Palestinians to turn their weapons against a common foe?

Or will Jerusalem be miraculously rid of sectarian division, its barricades levitating into space and replaced, perhaps, with Dubai-like skyscrapers or a rash of commercial branding? What would Jesus do, were Arab and Jew to stop warring there at last?

To judge by an Israeli-sponsored competition of animated short films envisaging Jerusalem a century hence, things won't go easier for the city at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

But against the drag of science-fiction dystopia, there are currents of hope -- the kind that organizers believe will have Hollywood appeal, not least given the world-class filmmakers who served as jury for the contest, dubbed "Jerusalem 2111."

Winner of the $10,000 prize was U.S.-based cinema student David Gidali, whose 2-minute-long "Secular Quarter" shows a Jewish couple, religious and non-religious, coming face-to-face as UFOs remove the huge cages sealing off their neighborhoods.

"I ended the movie with an optimistic note, to start a thought-process and to get people to ask themselves, 'Wait a minute, do we actually need extra-terrestrial vehicles to come and lift the walls between us, or is it something that we can do by ourselves?'," Gidali said at the awards ceremony on Friday.

Competition entries drew on everything from rudimentary stop-motion animation to computer-generated graphics worthy of a modern studio, and were submitted over YouTube. Municipal authorities provided aerial footage of Jerusalem for download.

"Secular Quarter" and two runners-up were chosen from among 10 finalists by a panel including "Avatar" producer Jon Landau, German director Wim Wenders and "Asterix" animators Paul and Gaetan Brizzi.

Holy City Eyes Hollywood

Daniel Wiernik, one of the organizers of "Jerusalem 2111," saw prospects for some of the entries securing the funding and international interest to be converted into full-length films.

He cited, as precedent, "Panic Attack," a short YouTube film depicting a alien invasion of Uruguay. Having gone viral last year, its director, Fede Alvarez, now has Hollywood's attention.

Yet can Israel, whose claim on all of Jerusalem is contested by the Palestinians and not recognized abroad, afford to promote such bleak or -- to some -- unacceptable visions of the future?

One entry to "Jerusalem 2111" shows a nuclear explosion set off in the city and rippling out to rupture the entire world. In another, the city is presented as exclusively and merrily Arab.

There are unsettling stabs at religious harmony. A cartoon Christ beams as Jew and Arab survey a horde of zombies they have slain. An enormous Jewish temple appears beside al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, tinderbox of pan-Muslim sensitivities.

Wiernik shrugs off such concerns.

"It's the job of science fiction to be critical of society, in order to bring about its improvement. How many times have we seen New York destroyed by disasters, alien attacks, Godzilla?"

"Besides, some of the entrants for the competition were positively upbeat, much to our surprise," he said.

Landau also noted the films that had focused on "two sides coming together." But he took a more universalist outlook.

"What this really was was about the future world, and Jerusalem happened to be the backdrop," he told Reuters from the United States.

"Jerusalem 2111" he said, served as a showcase for "some very talented film-makers. We're talking about young people, and they tend to be scared of what will happen in the future."

Editing by Paul Casciato

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