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Jerusalem of celluloid

by michael August 29 2008
Movie lovers cram together at the Jerusalem Film Festival

With the summer excitement of the Jerusalem Film Festival long past, movie fanatics in the city have to look elsewhere for their fix of cinematic magic - and the situation on the ground isn't always encouraging. Jerusalemites love movies (thus the perennial success of the Film Fest), but the number of decent venues in which to see them is on the wane. All of downtown's theaters have been long boarded up. The main first-run theaters, the Rav Chen out in Talpiot and the Globus Theater even further out in Malcha, are thinly-staffed, cramped, ill-equipped and magnets for the worst kind of cinema-goer. If it weren't for the sophisticated offerings of the Cinematheque and the left-field indie flicks screened at the Lev Smadar, local film buffs might just have to - perish the thought - descend to Tel Aviv for decent flicks on decent screens with decent sound.

Even the Jerusalem Post has taken note of the state of affairs, devoting a whole article to the local cinema scene:

The truth is that, with a few sparkling exceptions, movie-going in the holy city has become a thoroughly unpleasant business. As a movie critic, I go to more movies than most people, and I regret that there are fewer theaters today than ever, as each and every theater in the downtown area has closed.

Remember the Edison? The Eden? The Ron and Or-Gil off Rehov Hillel? The Kfir? Those and so many others are just a distant memory. It's a worldwide trend these days: Downtowns are dying all over the place as consumers shop in malls, where the multiplexes tend to get only the biggest budget, mainstream films. 

Particularly harsh rhetoric is aimed at the Globus Theater in Malcha:

There are rarely more than two ticket-sellers on duty, so the lines get huge.

If you arrive five minutes before a show, you will be lucky to see the beginning of the movie (in spite of the 10 or so minutes of ads and trailers before each film). The theaters get filthy very quickly[...]

A huge percentage of the audience, at any time of day, consists of teens, and we know teens will be teens, but both older and younger audiences have been driven out. A friend of mine left recently when a fist fight broke out in the row in front of him. Another friend reports that a boy dumped a full cup of cola over her young son's head during a movie.

If you go to this theater, you undoubtedly have your own stories. No one turns off their cell phones, of course, so you often have to strain to hear. And if you choose to see the last show of the night, when the film ends, you will find most of the mall's doors locked and no staff on duty to direct you to the one or two exits that are still open.

The exits that are open may not be anywhere near where you parked, so you may find yourself wandering through the parking lots, an especially nerve-wracking situation for women alone at night[...]

Israelis are notorious for their willingness to embrace mediocrity in certain areas, but there is hope for those who want to see big-name movies in civilized theaters. The Tel Aviv area has seen several American-style multiplexes open in recent years, and market forces being what they are, they'll inevitably migrate to Jerusalem and force out dinosaurs like Globus (although people will still leave their cell phones on). And in the meantime, the Cinematheque and the Smadar should keep you going.

Image courtesy of the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

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