It’s not every day that the Mayor of a major city attends the press conference announcing the opening of a new multiplex. In another year’s time. But, this is Jerusalem and this is a cinema. The rules work slightly differently here.
To be fair, there was lots of good news to be shared at the press conference earlier this week, convened to announce the opening of Yes Planet Jerusalem, in the summer of 2015. . The setting was the picturesque location of the multiplex-to-be, on a site overlooking the Valley of Hinnom, not very far from the Old City and Emek Refaim. Yes Planet Jerusalem will be an impressive venture: 16 screens and 2200 seats, sensitively-designed infrastructure that takes into account environmental needs (and one doesn’t get to say that very often about cinemas), lots of the technical detail that we blockbuster consumers have come to take for granted (digital film, laser-designed-and-aligned acoustics) and some others that we haven’t, at least not yet (something called 4DX – the best of physical and virtual sensations, we were assured.)
There will also be an IMAX screen, the second in the country. This, apparently, is a big deal. Andrew Cripps, EMEA President of IMAX gave a presentation, showing off the scenic locations of the flagship IMAX cinemas elsewhere in the world – London’s South Bank and Potsdam in Germany. Jerusalem will add a bit of iconic appeal to the brand, he proposed. I’m not quite sure who will be the winner here: Jerusalem of Gold, the crucible of the three monotheistic religions and so on and so forth, or big screen cinema devotees around the world. But perhaps I’m just splitting hairs.
Cue Nir Barkat, a man who increasingly looks and sounds as though he was born to be Mayor of Jerusalem. (Feel free to read a compliment into that if you wish.) Barkat started off by looking wistfully eastwards and admiring the view, observing that there are some things that money cannot buy. (I’m going to stick out my neck here and suggest that attempts have been made, perhaps not by Barkat but certainly with others with a…revanchist outlook to Jerusalem’s history, geography and politics. But that’s a story for another time and place.) Barkat did make the correct point that Yes Planet Jerusalem will add to the cultural overhaul of the city. Actually, he used the word “renaissance”, which I personally would baulk at. But to each their own and so on and so forth.
Some more corporate goodies. Did you know, for instance, that Cinema City International, NV (parent company of Yes Planet, and NOT to be mistaken for the Cinema City chain of multiplexes in Israel – and more on that point later) opened the first cinema in Israel, the first multiplex in Israel, has extensive interests across central and eastern Europe? No, neither did I. It has just merged with Cineworld, the second largest chain in the United Kingdom, making them the number 3 chain in Europe. No doubt wildly interesting to the sort of person who reads the financial pages in newspapers.
But this is all by the way. The fun and games started when the floor was thrown open for questions. “So, what’s going to be the deal with the Shabbat?” one of the great unwashed shouted out from the floor. Remember, I did tell you: this is Jerusalem, and this is a cinema.
Some context for the mercifully uninformed. The delicate balance between synagogue and State in Israel is maintained by an imprecise legal fiction known as the Status Quo. In a perfect world, the Status Quo will stake out the metaphysical territory claimed by the competing demands of the Observant – who respect the day of rest, amongst other things – and the not–Observant, who most emphatically do not. Jerusalem, however, is far from being the synecdoche of a perfect world. The existing multiplex, Cinema City (remember – no relation of Cinema City NV. Only God alone knows why they have such similar names…) in Jerusalem has had to contend with protests, from revanchists of the ultra-Orthodox persuasion, unhappy that it operates on the Shabbat.
Barkat, ever the politician, said something diplomatic about the need to respect both the Status Quo and the Law. But Moshe Greidinger, head honcho at Yes Planet, set the situation out clearly. Cinemas being a democratic space – and one that makes most of its income at the weekend, it goes without saying – there is an incentive to accommodate the needs of all the patrons. Yes Planet Jerusalem will operate on the Shabbat; but of all the restaurants and coffee shops and other facilities, some will be Kosher-certified, as stated by Uzi Wexler, Chairman of the Sherover Foundation.. Also – and this may be by the way, but indulge me – it is worth pointing out that the cross ultra-Orthodox are the Jerusalem constituency least likely to enjoy the charms of Yes Planet Jerusalem, in due course. Essentially anyone who comes a-visiting will be able to make an informed choice of their own. “We are not anti-anything,” Greidinger emphasised. Which, I think, is the best path to choose.