"I think there is a James in each and every one of us. We all learn too well, as people and as societies, how to talk about our noble dreams as an easy way of forgetting them." ­Director Ra'anan Alexandrowicz

A few years ago, I knew a Nigerian man named James who was living in Israel at the time on a long-expired tourist visa. James was around 40 years old. He was a banker by profession, but due to the political and economical situation in Nigeria, he now lived in Tel-Aviv and worked cleaning houses. James used to share with me the hardships, fears and sorrows of a migrant worker's life, as well as his memories from his homeland, Nigeria, and his dream of life in a place he one day hoped to reach: Canada.

One day, James told me something that startled me. He described how he had imagined my country before he had come to live and work here: He imagined the Holy Land as a green, plentiful land, flowing with milk and honey, as is written in the bible. In this land, he thought, dwelled the most peaceful and happy people, the most virtuous people in the world: The Lord's chosen people. "I remember the moment I got out of the airplane at the airport here," he told me with a smile, "I smelled the sweetness of the air, tears came to my eyes, and I began to cry because, at long last, I had arrived in the Holy Land."

When I heard these words, I realized I was hearing the opening scene of a film, though I did not know yet what that film would be about. The contradictions and irony I felt upon hearing these few sentences spoken by a man who was living in the most rundown part of my city, a man who made his living cleaning bathrooms and kitchens, led me to begin writing "James' Journey to Jerusalem" ­ a movie which I consider to be a contemporary economic fairy tale, with realistic elements.

The first thing I thought of about the film was the fundamental, strong contradiction between the Holy Land as an abstract, spiritual entity in the mind of many people in the world, and it being Israel, a country with a very prosaic existence-a fast developing country, with a modern economy, traffic jams, shopping malls, immigration laws, and exploited migrant workers.

What I imagined was a man who comes to Israel as a pilgrim from as far away as a pilgrim can come. This man only knows the Holy Land from the description in the bible. When he arrives, a bureaucratic mistake scuttles his plan to become a tourist in a heavenly land: Instead, he finds himself falling into the difficult position of a migrant worker. I used this as the starting point of the journey-a journey on which James observes Israeli society, as I feel it is today. Although the content that comprises this story is purely Israeli, I think the observations that the fictitious, naïve James has about Israel are valid not only about our country, but also about most of the places that make up the Western World.

One of the most significant experiences of cinema, in my opinion, is that it can make you see the world through someone else's eyes for a while. If we take this one step further, cinema is able to do something even stronger: It can show you yourself through someone else's eyes. I see "James' Journey to Jerusalem" as a reflection of my feelings about my society-especially the powerful interplay between economic factors and almost any other social behavior.

Our film is also a story about a man who has a dream, but who is led by reality to lose his way toward its fulfillment without realizing what is happening to him. In a way, I think there is a bit of James in each and every one of us. We learn too well, as people and as societies, how to talk about our noble dreams as an easy way of forgetting them. I think each of us has his or her Jerusalem toward which we aspired to reach. Whether we reach it, or even remember where we were headed, is another issue.

-Ra'anan Alexandrowicz



© 2004 Zeitgeist Films Ltd.