Get ready to sink into reclining, red-leather stadium chairs with adjustable foot rests while screening the latest flicks on top-of-the-line LED screens at one of the 19 theaters in Jerusalem’s brand-new Cinema City complex.
It’s a whole new world of movie-going for Jerusalemites, commented actor Yehoram Gaon, who was on hand Tuesday to mark the opening of the long-awaited movie complex, which officially opens Thursday.
“I think about the Edison, the Orion, the Gil and Chen theaters — they were the only theaters in the city,” said Gaon, reminiscing about his Jerusalem childhood. “We would buy tickets and then sneak in some of our friends. After the movie, we’d go eat at King of the Falafel. This is a very different experience.”
That’s something of an understatement, considering the eight-floor, 20,000-square-meter complex which comprises 19 theaters, two VIP rooms, conference halls, and a cultural center with a museum of Jewish film, a Bible-themed activity space and an indoor mall with 54 restaurants, cafes and stores. There’s also the wide aisles in each theater (no more tripping over people’s feet), a massive concession stand, and three floors of film memorabilia, photographs and statuettes of famous movie characters.
And, the parking is free. All 2,000 spaces of it, promised Moshe Edry, one of the three owners of the Cinema City chain.
“People thought we were crazy when we built the first Cinema City in Glilot,” said Leon Edry, Moshe’s brother and one of his fellow Cinema City owners. “But it was the mayor of Jerusalem who made this happen.”
Many of Jerusalem’s movie theaters closed over the last two decades, leaving a dearth of silver screens in the city. For Mayor Nir Barkat, who has spent a considerable part of his time in office reconsidering the capital’s cultural landscape, the lack of a real movie theater complex — complete with comfortable seating, available parking and access from various neighborhoods of the city — was a real concern.
“We’ve spent the last five years trying to bring Jerusalem to a new level, and there is no better marketing tool than the movies,” he said. “It gets added to the mix of new cultural centers, like Beit Hansen, Beit Mazia and the First Train Station. Jerusalem has a huge potential and we want to realize that potential.”
“I want to offer you a huge thank you,” he said, speaking to the Cinema City owners.
One sticking point for the new complex is whether it will be open on Friday nights and Saturdays, when many Jerusalem residents observe Shabbat and prefer that public spaces remain closed.
Barkat brought up the controversial Shabbat issue, commenting that some Jerusalem theaters do operate on Shabbat, but are located on private land and therefore are not affected by the public debate on the matter.
“This is located on public land,” he said, referring to the Cinema City complex, which is situated across the street from the Foreign Ministry and Supreme Court on land jointly owned by the Finance Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality. “The matter is being discussed at the Supreme Court right now, and we’re waiting for its response.”
Asked if it’s the mayor’s decision whether to keep Cinema City open on Shabbat, Barkat demurred.
“This isn’t a decision that can made lightly,” he said. “There’s lots of resentment; some want one thing and some want another. And it’s the building across the street that will decide in the end.” He gestured at the nearby Supreme Court.
The Sherover cultural complex, currently under construction off Hebron Road in the Abu Tor neighborhood, is slated to be open on Shabbat, but the Edry brothers said they weren’t concerned about possible competition.
“It’s good for a business to have competition,” said Leon Edry. “And if they open on Shabbat, so will we.”
“The original plan was only for us to be here in Jerusalem,” added Moshe Edry. “It has to be fair competition, but there’s no reason that they’ll be open on Shabbat and we won’t be.”
Mayor Barkat again emphasized that the issue of whether to open the theater on Shabbat is a matter of Jerusalem’s status quo.
“There are residents who want everything open on Shabbat and those who want it all closed,” he said. “It’s a very complicated issue and the Supreme Court is debating it. We have to find the right way, because it has such an impact.”
Following an investment of NIS 250 million ($71 million) and 26 months of construction in the theater complex, the Cinema City owners said they expect to sell two million movie tickets each year and to welcome 15 million visitors during the first year. The company sold 15 million tickets countrywide to movies last year, and expects to reach 17 million to 19 million tickets sold this year.
“Movie theaters like these are like what the DVD player did for movies,” said Moshe Edry. “It’s turned the industry around.”
“Jerusalem residents have been thirsty for this,” he added. “It’s been this absurd situation, that metropolitan Jerusalem, with 880,000 residents, has nowhere to go to the movies.”
The two Edrys own the Cinema City chain with Yaakov Cohen, but it’s the brothers, Leon and Moshe, who are considered the Cinema Paradiso pair of the Israeli film industry.
Raised in the southern development town of Dimona, they slowly built up their empire, investing in movie theaters and films, and opened the first Cinema City in 2002 in Glilot, near Herzliya. They later opened another Cinema City in Rishon Lezion. Jerusalem is the third complex for the chain, and they’re currently building in Beersheba and in several other locations.
There, won’t, however, be another Cinema City like this one, said Leon Edry. “There’s only one Jerusalem.”