Religious studies professor Jodi Magness said she still remembers the day she found shell fossils at Girl Scout camp.
Now, students can find her on the big screen.
Magness stars as the lead archaeologist in the IMAX movie “Jerusalem.”
The IMAX film follows three young women around the city as they explain important areas based on their beliefs. The movie delves into the perspectives of a Muslim woman, a Jewish woman and Christian woman.
Producers contacted Magness, a professor who has been teaching courses on early Judaism at UNC since 2002, because of her expertise in a variety of archaeological periods.
Studying Jerusalem, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient synagogues and pottery, Magness has continued her love of all things historical. She remembers wanting to be an archaeologist since she was young.
“When I was 12, I had a very good history teacher, and we studied ancient Greece, and I fell in love with it,” Magness said.
With this continuing passion for the ancient, Magness helped “Jerusalem” Director Daniel Ferguson and Producers Taran Davies and George Duffield with the film.
“She single-handedly kept the production team in line,” Davies said.
Former UNC student James Heilpern had a walk-on role in the film as a student that goes on the tour of the city.
Heilpern took a course with Magness as a freshman and said he enjoyed working with her on the film.
“I honestly couldn’t think of anyone better,” Heilpern said of his former professor. “Jodi is a very confident and a world-renown scholar in her field, and definitely has a very charismatic personality.”
Of the students cast in the film, Heilpern is one of the few who has a background in archaeology.
The film will be shown all over the United States and parts of Europe beginning Sept. 21.
The closest theater to campus is in Charlotte’s Discovery Place. Magness said she believes more theaters may show the movie as it gains popularity.
President John Mackay of Charlotte’s Discovery Place worked with Magness in Jerusalem and discussed the possibility of creating an exhibit in the United States. Instead the museum directors chose not to make an exhibit in favor of opening Discovery Place Kids locations.
Mackay believes the Charlotte Discovery Place will create the exhibit with Jerusalem artifacts at a future date.
Mackay noted Magness’ enthusiasm and skill.
“From our point of view, she gave freely of her expertise,” Mackay said.
He added that Magness helped the filmmakers get access to some of the exclusive locations that are featured in “Jerusalem.”
Magness lived in the Jerusalem area for 11 years and got her degrees in archaeology and history at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“She’s a bit of a celebrity over there,” Mackay said.
The film is available for view in 3-D on a regular IMAX screen or 2-D on a dome IMAX screen.
The film features scenic shots of Jerusalem and narration by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Both cast and crew hope to engage young people, and Davies said Magness will help do that.
“She seemed like the right type of person who could inspire kids,” Davies said.
Magness said she hopes to teach her audience just as she does kids in the classroom.
As she continues to promote Jerusalem and works on her excavations in Huqoq, Israel, her focus on campus remains clear:
“I would never give up my day job.”
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