Haredim protest Natalie Portman filming in Jerusalem

Residents pen letter to municipality as neighborhood graffiti denounces ‘foreign invasion’

Natalie Portman (Courtesy)
Natalie Portman (Courtesy)

Ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood protested to the municipality in recent days after they discovered that Hollywood A-lister Natalie Portman intends to shoot scenes for an upcoming movie in the neighborhood.

“The film shooting is set to take place on several sensitive streets close to synagogues and yeshivas, and the scenes being filmed should have been examined first to make sure they don’t offend anybody’s sensitivities,” a letter from residents to the municipality read. The municipality had neglected to inform the residents, they said, and they only found out about the filming in recent days.

Reports surfaced Monday of graffiti in the neighborhood denouncing the “foreign invasion” coming to the neighborhood. The municipality has said that all the actors involved in the filming will dress modestly while in the neighborhood.

(The city later denied receiving a letter from residents and said there was no negative graffiti. Filming in Nahlaot on February 11 and 12 passed without incident.)

“There is a constant tension between the desire to celebrate diverse and interesting Jerusalem and the attempts by extremist groups to prevent this,” Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria said. “The attraction of the city, its unique architecture and the efforts of the film and television industry will triumph,” she vowed, “and the cinematic growth we’ve seen in Jerusalem in recent years will continue to flourish also tomorrow with Natalie Portman in Nahlaot.”

Portman, 32, is in Jerusalem to film “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel.

Much of the movie, directed by Portman from a screenplay written by novelist Assaf Gavron, takes place in Jerusalem, Oz’s birthplace. And, accordingly, the cast, which included a group of elementary school-age children spotted in downtown Jerusalem Monday, were dressed in 1940s-era clothing, with wool knee-length shorts for the boys and pinafore dresses for the girls.

Portman has been back and forth to Israel over the last few months to set up the production of her film adaptation. She plays Oz’s mother — she will speak Hebrew in the film — and asked the acclaimed author for the rights to the novel six years ago. He agreed because of his “high esteem for her work,” Oz told Reuters.

Portman received NIS 1.6 million (some $450,000) from the Jerusalem Development Authority to make the movie in the capital.

Like Oz, Portman was born in Jerusalem, but she moved to the US with her parents when she was three.

Jessica Steinberg contributed to this report.

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