Short films about jerusalem: all-round view at the checkpoint

Director Dani Levy has made four virtual reality short films about Jerusalem. They can be seen in a Berlin exhibition.

A somewhat different film experience: the 360-degree view with virtual reality glasses Photo: dpa

Regular riots, constant provocations and a peace process that is more illusory than real – this is the feeling of everyday life in Jerusalem, the city that both Jewish people and Palestinians* call their capital.

In Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem, a stand-up comedian asks the crowd, "Do you believe in Palestine?" Many of the audience* members answer in the negative. Cheers, however, for the questions, "Who loves Israel? Do you believe in Israel?" Political comedy has always been part of Jewish culture. But as soon as critical remarks are made about the government, not everyone feels like laughing.

Faith – Love – Hope – Fear through June 17 at the Jewish Museum, 12-6pm. The films can also be seen in the Arte and ZDF VR apps.

As an observer of this scene of Dani Levy’s VR short film "Glaube" (Faith), you are part of the action yourself, you are even addressed and involved in the scene. At the same time, the reactions of the passers-by can be studied, which are almost more exciting than the street artist himself. Because the episode is staged, a large part of the audience does not know that it is being filmed. Only four of them are actors.

In the Jewish Museum, virtual reality glasses and swivel chairs make it possible to immerse oneself in the scene as if one were there. You can turn around once – your eyes see everything around you, including the hustle and bustle on the streets. It’s a dizzying business: After a while, you lose your sense of space, and it becomes exhausting to constantly move your head back and forth. Sometimes slight dizziness sets in, especially when the cameraman is moving.

In the middle of the action

The image is also not permanently sharp; the technology "is still in its infancy," says director Levy. Cameraman Filip Zumbrunn had to get inventive for the 360-degree view: On his head, attached to a riding helmet and a cake pan, he wore the camera. In order to stay at eye level with the actors, he mostly crouched down while filming. The film was shot in one take, without editing.

On the laptop at home, the 360-degree feeling can be recreated by moving the arrow keys or the mouse. Even if you’re not really in the middle of the action like with VR glasses, it’s a more pleasant viewing experience. In the short film "Love," you suddenly find yourself standing in a crowded public bus, en route from the West Bank to East Jerusalem. The bus comes to a halt at a checkpoint, and two border guards, heavily armed, board the bus. The passengers seem unimpressed.

Faith – Love – Hope – Fear until the 17th The films can also be seen in the Arte and ZDF VR apps.

Except for two Palestinian women, because one of them has an expired passport with her. This is another image that Levy’s films leave behind: a Jerusalem where an abstruse-seeming normality prevails. The woman is asked by one of the officials to get out of the car. As an observer, one follows them into a kind of tent at the border wall and can also take a close look at the surroundings.

The comedian in Zion Square thinks the wall is illegal. "This wall protects us!", "This is the only way we have peace", are enraged reactions from the audience. The fun is over. "You’re coming with us," one of the angry men addresses the audience member directly as the comedian is pushed into the corner of a street, "then you’ll see the real Israel." It’s a queasy feeling, being in the middle of it all but not being able to say or do anything. At times, the actors* come uncomfortably close to you virtually.

Insight into an abstruse reality

The decades-old conflict in and around Jerusalem becomes tangible through everyday situations in each of Levy’s four short films, which the director shot to accompany the "Welcome to Jerusalem" exhibition at the Jewish Museum. The wall that divides the city is not only seen, but also felt. In all the seriousness that resonates in the scenes, however, there is always something funny and whimsical.

At the end of each episode, there is disappointment that the story is not continued. At the same time, the 360-degree experience is in the foreground, and certain episodes are more exciting because of the virtual reality perspective than the plot itself. Some of the films wouldn’t have needed this technological gimmick.

"Faith," "Hope," "Love," and "Fear" certainly didn’t become the films’ titles for nothing. Despite their fiction, they also reflect the reality of the city. Viewers can immerse themselves in it, at least temporarily, through the 360-degree view.

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