The heart of the world: The star of Jerusalem 3D talks about her hometown and seeing herself on the Giant Screen for the first time

Farah Ammouri and her brother Mohammed after viewing Jerusalem 3D in our Giant Screen Theatre for the first time.

If you haven’t yet heard the mountains of praise for the wildly stunning Jerusalem 3D movie, climb out from under your rock right now. This epic film from National Geographic Entertainment whisks and winds you through one of the world’s most important cities with arguably one of the most storied pasts of all time.

But in a city as multifaceted and layered as Jerusalem, how do you do justice to its many tales without focusing on its politics?

Well, you hear it from the perspectives of those who live it every day.

The production team of Taran Davies, George Duffield, and Daniel Ferguson said in a press release, “Our goal is to look at the roots of the universal attachment to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope the juxtaposition of these different religions and cultures — all with profound spiritual and historical connections to the city — will reveal how much Jews, Christians and Muslims have in common and inspire all of us to better understand each other.”

So the team asked three girls — a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim — to lead them around their city for a day. Each girl revealed surprisingly different perspectives — perspectives that form the backbone of Jerusalem 3D‘s magic.

Farah Ammouri, an 18-year-old Muslim, was one of these young women. She spent her entire life in Jerusalem, and she currently attends college in Dallas. We sat down to talk with Ammouri after she traveled to Houston for her very first viewing — ever! — of Jerusalem 3D.

So this was the first time you’d seen the full movie. What did you think?

It was awesome. I loved it. Most of my own footage I’d seen — they’d shown me the clips of what was happening and how they were filming — so I was up-to-date on how it was going to be. But I didn’t see [any of the other girls'] footage; [Director Daniel Ferguson] only showed me mine.

How did you end up in the movie anyway?

First of all, I’m not an actress, obviously. [laughs] I went to a Catholic school, and our nun asked for girls whose families originate from Jerusalem to be interviewed for a movie. A lot of my good friends were auditioning for the movie. It was awkward for awhile, being selected out of a lot of girls that you know. I auditioned in October and I found out in January of the next year. It was a shock; I didn’t know what to expect. [Ferguson] told me about the movie; that it was going to be about religion but nothing political, and I was fascinated by the idea.

You didn’t want to be a part of it because you have acting aspirations?

Nooooo. [giggles] The girls who casted for the movie … we’re all going into something scientific. I have no aspirations to become an actress.

Did you know either of the other girls [Nadia Tadros, from a Greek Orthodox and Catholic family, and Revital Zacharie, a Jew] before the movie?

I knew the Christian girl [Nadia Tadros]. She’s really good friends with me; she used to go to my school and graduated two years before me. I didn’t know she was a Christian girl, and once I knew, we started talking to each other even more. She helped me a lot [throughout the filming of the movie]; we would give each other mental support and encourage each other.

Has your life changed at all as a result of the film?

It has given me experience. I’ve met a lot of new people, and I’ve learned a lot. My personality has gotten stronger from the movie. Imagine seeing yourself walking down the stairs [referring to a scene in Jerusalem 3D], and everyone looking at you and they are trying to tell them not to look at you. When they don’t look at the camera, they’ll be looking at me, and they tell them, “Don’t look at the girl; act normal.” It’s funny.

How do you view your relationship with Jerusalem now that you’re in the United States?

I’m a bit homesick. I do want to go back to live. I came here to study Genetic Engineering and it’s really hard to study that in Jerusalem. After that, I really want to go back home to my family.

Explore the cherished land of Jerusalem in our Giant Screen Theatre. Get your tickets to Jerusalem 3D.

Woolly mammoths to walk the earth again?

Thats right. Those giant, tusked behemoths could one day soon walk among us again. Maybe I should start at the beginning.

st petersburg 2008 - 218.JPG
© Photo credit: Florent Herry

In 2007, a reindeer breeder in the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia named Yuri Khudi discovered a one month old baby woolly mammoth. The baby mammoth, dubbed Lyuba, is roughly 40,000 years old and almost perfectly preserved (missing only her fur and toenails.) Lyuba either suffocated by sinking in mud or drowned in a muddy river.

Large amounts of mud were found in her mouth, trunk and trachea, suggesting that she asphyxiated. This sealed out oxygen and microbes that normally break down soft tissue and helped keep Lyuba perserved. Her body then dehydrated and shrunk to about half of her normal size. Lyuba now stands about waist high on the average person. The permafrost of Siberia then covered her and kept her in pristine condition until she was uncovered 40,000 years later.

Interested? So was National Geographic. They created a documentary about Lyula, the best-preserved baby mammoth ever discovered. Waking the Baby Mammoth premieres this Sunday, April 26, at 8 p.m. Central time, and follows Yuri’s amazing find and the fascinating process of discovery as scientists work to unravel Lyula’s mysteries.  (Check out the video preview below)They investigate the body of the mammoth, learning how she briefly lived and theorizing how she died. The documentary includes CGI graphics that help show how Lyuba and her family might have looked as they survived the harsh conditions of Siberia during the ice age.

Some other things you might not know about wooly mammoths:

The word “mammoth” is thought to have originated from an old Vogul word for “earth.”

Woolly Mammoths began dying out about 10,000 years ago, around the end of the ice age. A small population of dwarfed mammoths survived in Alaska until roughly 3,700 years ago; however, the majority died out long before then.

The first largely intact frozen mammoth carcass was discovered in 1799 in Siberia.

One of the longest mammoth tusks ever found was 16 feet long and weighed more than 200 pounds.

asian-elephant
 © Photo credit:
robertpaulyoung

Mammoths are very closely related to the Asian Elephant (they share 99.4 percent of their DNA.) It is possible to take the sperm from a mammoth and impregnant the egg of an elephant, and use a female elephant to incubate. This would give birth to a mammoth/elephant hybrid.

From there, it would be possible to impregnate the hybrid to create an offspring that was even more closely related to the ancient mammoths. In a similar process, you could also take a woolly mammoth egg and clone it to create  a woolly mammoth.

The woolly mammoth genome was the first genome to be reconstructed from an extinct animal It has 4.7 billion base pairs and is the largest known mammal genome.

Understanding Human Evolution: Fongoli Chimpanzees

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Jill Pruetz from National Geographic. In addition to being a professor of biological anthropology at Iowa State University, she is currently conducting studies for National Geographic on the evolution of the Fongoli chimpanzees of Senegal. Understanding how the Fongoli chimpanzees survive the harsh conditions of Senegal help us to comprehend how our own ancient relatives might have lived. She will be giving a lecture on the subject at HMNS on Tuesday, March 24. This event is part of the Museum’s ongoing celebration of Darwin2009.

My research focuses on a unique chimpanzee community. The Fongoli chimpanzees live in southeastern Senegal where the climate is very hot, dry and open for this species. Temperatures during the 7 month dry season can reach over 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, and rainfall is less than 35 inches per year. Chimpanzees here live in a habitat that is almost devoid of forest. Over 95% of their extensive home range (from two to nine times larger than the ranges of chimpanzees studied elsewhere!) consists of grassland or woodland, with tiny patches of forest making up the rest.

Grey day over the savannah
Creative Commons License photo credit: Julien Harneis

Other attempts at habituating savanna chimpanzees to the presence of human observers have not succeeded.  I believe that I was successful at Fongoli, in part, because chimpanzees don’t view most humans as predators.  Although they avoid humans – to this day, except for us – they do not react to them as if they are predators. 

People in Senegal do not eat chimpanzees as they do in many countries of Africa but consider them to be close relatives.  They include chimpanzees in their folktales and myths.  Even so, it took us four times longer (four years!) to habituate the Fongoli chimpanzees as researchers studying chimpanzees in more forested areas.

Wise
Creative Commons License photo credit: doug88888

The extreme environment at Fongoli is the reason I chose to work here.  This environment is similar, in many ways, to the mosaic of habitats that we associate with the earliest members of our own lineage – the bipedal apes that lived over 5 million years ago.  Hunting with tools, using caves, living with fire, soaking in water pools, and living in a more cohesive community are all behaviors that are fairly unique to the Fongoli chimpanzee community when compared to studies of this species elsewhere.  Each of these behaviors can be tied into the savanna environment in which they live. 

Understanding the behavior of our closest living relatives in this type of environment can help provide insight into how apes respond to the pressures associated with a mosaic habitat, something we knew little about until our study of the Fongoli chimpanzees.

For more information on Jill Pruetz and her work with chimpanzees check out her blog at http://www.savannachimp.blogspot.com and http://www.savannachimp.com

For more information on her lecture here on Tuesday, March 24, click here. This is just one of the many distinguished lectures available at HMNS.

Darwin speaks: NatGeo Live Blogging Event

Charles Darwin turns 200 this year – and in a neat coincidence, his book On The Origin of Species is 150 this year as well. (Very considerate of him to wait exactly 50 years to publish, so we can celebrate all at once.)

That’s one angry-looking turkey.
From National Geographic’s 
Morphed: From Dinosaur to Turkey

Darwin’s theories continue to revolutionize science – and as you might have noticed, they’re still kind of controversial, even a century and a half later.

This weekend, National Geographic is coordinating a live blogging event where you’ll have the opportunity to debate the facts and ask questions of several experts on the subject.

Check out their blog for the experts’ bios and information about the event; you can also submit questions in advance. it’s taking place this Sunday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. CT/7 p.m. ET in conjunction with the premiere of Morphed, a new series showing various species evolve as natural forces impact them over millions of years.

If that’s just not enough Darwin for you, come to the Museum this weekend for Darwin Day! You can see live animals, study adaptations in insects, and help create an evolutionary timeline that runs the length of the entire Museum, meet paleontologists, and explore representations of human evolution. In conjunction with Darwin2009, we’re also hosting Darwin-related lectures and classes all year long. You can also read more about Charles Darwin in anthropology curator Dirk’s post, An ‘Aha” Moment Worth Celebrating.