Document Sample
AGORA Powered By Docstoc
                A film by Alejandro Amenábar

      production, with the participation of CANAL + ESPAÑA

                    Production Notes

                 International Press Contacts:

                   Focus Features International
                    Oxford House, 4th Floor
                        76 Oxford Street
                       London, W1D 1BS
                     Tel: +44 207 307 1330

                          Anna Bohlin
                 Manager, International Publicity

A film by Alejandro Amenábar.

production, with the participation of CANAL + ESPAÑA.


Hypatia………………………………………………..                RACHEL WEISZ
Davus………………………………………………….                  MAX MINGHELLA
Orestes……………………………………………….                 OSCAR ISAAC
Ammonius……………………………………………….                ASHRAF BARHOM
Theon…………………………………………………..                 MICHAEL LONSDALE
Synesius………………………………………………..               RUPERT EVANS
Aspasius………………………………………..……..              HOMAYOUN ERSHADI
Cyril…………………………………………………..                 SAMMY SAMIR
Olympius……………………………………………….                RICHARD DURDEN
Isidorus………………………………………………..               OMAR MOSTAFA
Medorus……………………………………………….                 OSHRI COHEN
Peter……..……………………………………………….               YOUSEF SWEID


Director                                   Alejandro Amenábar
Screenplay                                 Alejandro Amenábar
                                           Mateo Gil
Producers                                  Fernando Bovaira
                                           Álvaro Augustin
Executive Producers                        Simón de Santiago
                                           Jaime Ortiz de Artiñano
Line Producer                              José Luis Escolar
Director of Photography                    Xavi Giménez
Production Designer                        Guy Hendrix Dyas
Costume Designer                           Gabriella Pescucci
Music                                      Dario Marianelli
Casting Director                           Jina Jay
Editor                                     Nacho Ruíz Capillas
Visual Effects Supervisor                  Felix Bergés
Special Effects Supervisor                 Chris Reynolds
Sound Designer                             Glenn Freemantle
Production Sound Mixer                     Peter Glossop
Make up Designer                           Jan Sewell
Hair Designer                              Suzanne Stokes-Munton
Make up and Hair Designer for Rachel Weisz Graham Johnston
Length     126 minutes
Format     Scope 1:2:35
Sound      Dolby Digital, SDDS and DTS
Shoot      March 17th to June 30th, 2008
Location   Malta
4th century A.D. Egypt under the Roman Empire… Violent religious upheaval in
the streets of Alexandria spills over into the city’s famous Library. Trapped
inside its walls, the brilliant astronomer Hypatia and her disciples fight to save
the wisdom of the Ancient World… Among them, the two men competing for
her heart: the witty, privileged Orestes and Davus, Hypatia’s young slave, who is
torn between his secret love for her and the freedom he knows can be his if he
chooses to join the unstoppable surge of the Christians.
“Four years ago, after The Sea Inside, which was such an intimate
experience for me, I would never have imagined that my next film would be
about Romans and Christians in Ancient Egypt. But that’s the beauty of this
profession: you can let your curiosity run free and explore worlds as
fascinating as 4th century Alexandria; imagine its streets, temples and people.
And find the passion – and the money – to bring it all to life.”

“I’d never been interested in science. For me, the wonderful thing about this
project was to come into contact with the world of science from a spiritual and
emotional point of view. Our goal, with this film, was to apply emotion to what
happens in the universe; all the emotion that comes from trying to unravel the
mystery of the cosmos.”

“We ended up telling the story of Hypatia in the 4th century, in Alexandria,
through a very elaborate process of selection. It was, at first, a story that
spanned 2000 years, from the geocentric system to Relativity, and we
researched every detail. As we studied Hypatia and the period she lived in, we
found there were many connections with the world we live in today, and this
piqued our interest. Alexandria symbolized a civilisation slowly destroyed by
different factions, specifically religious factions. For many, the period in which
Hypatia lived marked the end of the Ancient World and the beginning of
medieval times.”

“From the beginning of the project, my goal, formally-speaking, was to make
the audience feel like they’re following a CNN team documenting something
that happened in the 4th century. That sense of urgency, like breaking news,
was the basis of my approach. I wanted to break with some of the established
norms of period films; not just shoot the larger format, wide angle shots and
grandiose music. AGORA is a blend of rigour and spectacle.”

“I wanted to get away from the formal perfection normally found in this type
of film. So, when we witness an encounter in the street, it must appear that the
camera can’t encompass everything with imposed perfection, so we get
something closer to reality, to suggest that reality prevents us from arriving at

“We opted for being direct witnesses to what happens, not contemplating
things from close-up, but from a corner. And, most of all, violence is not made
a spectacle of.”

“This film was pitched from the outset as an international project, to be shot in
English, basically because we’re talking about 50 million euros. It would be
suicidal to think that a project of such magnitude could be conceived purely in
Spain, shot in Spanish, with only Spanish actors; and then hope to recover the
investment. That, coupled with the fact that Alexandria was a melting pot of
culture and language, made me think that English could easily be spoken in its
“AGORA is the story of a woman, of a city, of a civilisation and of a planet.
The Agora is the planet upon which we must all live together. We tried to show
the human reality within the context of all the species of the Earth, and the
Earth within the context of the Universe – seeing human beings as ants and the
Earth as just another little ball, spinning beside many other stars. That’s why
we played with the change in perspective.”

“Sometimes I wish I could look through a peephole and see the past exactly as
it happened, even if it were only possible for five seconds or five minutes. That
is also something we tried to do in this film, offer the audience the chance to
look at the past through a peephole for two hours.”

“I want my films to be a journey. This one is a journey in time and space. The
entire experience has been extremely passionate, from the moment Mateo Gil,
Fernando Bovaira and I started dreaming about this project, to where we are
now, in the final phase. I can only hope that the audience will feel as
passionately about it as we did. AGORA is, in many senses, a history of the
past, which obliquely addresses what is happening in the present. It’s a mirror
for people to gaze into and observe from the distance of time and space, and
see how little the world has changed.”


Chilean-born Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar’s career has been truly
meteoric. Born in Santiago de Chile in 1972, Amenábar quickly attained
international prestige which has only increased with every film. His two
previous films, The Sea Inside (2004) and The Others (2001) have won him
international acclaim. The Sea Inside, starring Javier Bardem, won the Oscar for
Best Foreign Film as well as 58 other international film awards. The Others,
starring Nicole Kidman, was his first film shot entirely in English. The Others
was extraordinarily popular with audiences, worldwide and also received rave
reviews from critics. Since his debut feature film, Thesis (1996), Alejandro
Amenábar has connected with both audiences and experts alike. Thesis was
considered the Best film of the year by the Spanish Film Academy, and was also
successful with non-Spanish audiences, winning awards at several international
festivals. One year later, his second film, Open your Eyes, was a huge box office
hit in Spain and was released worldwide. The American remake, Vanilla Sky,
directed by Cameron Crowe, starred Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz and Cameron

As Director and writer

2009. “Agora”
2004. “The Sea Inside”
2001. “The Others”
1997. “Open Your Eyes”
1996. “Thesis”
As composer

2004. “The Sea Inside”
2001. “The Others”
1999. “Butterfly”, by José Luis Cuerda
1999. “Nobody knows anybody”, by Mateo Gil
1997. “Open Your Eyes”
1996. “Thesis”

As producer

2009. “El mal ajeno”, by Oskar Santos
2009. “Agora”
2004. “The Sea Inside”


“Fernando Bovaira, Mateo Gil and I were plunged, for three years, in history
and astronomy books. We became completely immersed in the Egypt of 1700
years ago. It’s surprising that such a legendary world - the Library of
Alexandria, The Canopic Way, the Lighthouse - seems condemned to oblivion,
especially by the cinema.”

After his Oscar for The Sea Inside, Alejandro Amenábar now invites the
audience to “experience the reality of a remote civilisation.” AGORA is a
singular journey to the Egypt of two thousand years ago, to the mythical city of
Alexandria and to the dramatic destruction of its Library. The film is inspired by
real events which have never before been brought to the screen. It is the
director’s fifth film, a huge scale production fraught with remarkable energy.

The director explores the individual experience of the people of Alexandria,
their pleasures and passions, in a period of great turbulence. A revolution has
taken root in the streets of the city, further fuelled by the decline of Greco-
Roman civilisation and the steady advance of Christianity. A symbol of cross-
cultural tolerance, Alexandria seems immersed in the type of convulsion that
usually presages the beginning of a new order.

Shot in English, AGORA boasts an international cast. Rachel Weisz, (Oscar for
The Constant Gardener), plays Hypatia of Alexandria. Young actor Max
Minghella (Syriana) plays Davus, the slave. Around them, a very solid cast:
Oscar Isaac (Body of Lies), Rupert Evans (Hellboy), Ashraf Barhom (The
Kingdom), Sammy Samir (Nativity) and the veteran French actor Michael
Lonsdale (Munich).

“It all began when we started taking an interest in the Theory of Relativity, as
a hobby,” the director recalls. “We wanted to know more about concepts so
closely linked to the cinema as time and space. That initial curiosity was a
window that later opened to many other things.”

As Mateo Gil recalls: “We got to the story of Hypatia when we were
investigating a larger project, about people who managed to rise above the
circumstances of the moment of history in which they lived by looking up at the
stars and wondering who we are, where we are and what it all means. We
found that Hypatia, her story and the society around her – the Alexandria of
her time – summed up the project in its entirety.”

Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil thoroughly investigated Hypatia and the
historical period in which she lived. They were initially surprised by how little is
known about her today. The more they learned about the character the more
they saw how relevant she is to today’s world: a woman, swimming against the
tide, defending the values she believes in, risking her life if necessary. The
circumstances in which Hypatia died are as extraordinary as the rest of her
biography. The climate of violence and confrontation that gripped Alexandria
and Hypatia’s stance against the socio-political debacle have made her into a
myth which contemporary spectators will no doubt identify with.

“One of the things that surprised us most during our research was discovering
that there were two libraries in Alexandria. The first was burnt down when
Julius Cesar arrived. The film is about the second library, and Hypatia was
one of the leading figures in the story of its destruction. It is a period that has
not been dealt with in cinema and we thought it could fascinate the audience,”
says Alejandro Amenábar.

“There is very little documented information on Hypatia,” says Mateo Gil. “We
read everything we could get our hands on. But all the scientific work she did
has been lost. We only know that she was a good mathematician and an even
better astronomer, that as an astronomer she surpassed her father, and that
she was quite an acclaimed mathematician.”

“Alexandria was the hub of all intellectual learning at the time. People came
from all corners of the earth to discuss theatre and philosophy and Maths and
astronomy and it was a time of incredible learning and a passion for learning.
And then towards the end of her life Alexandria became part of the Holy
Roman Empire and it went under Christian rule and it was essentially the
beginning of the Dark Ages. So she really straddled a very interesting moment
in history, from the most enlightened time to perhaps one of the least
enlightened times,” says Rachel Weisz.

After all the reading came the verification stage, when all the facts gathered by
the two writers were checked with experts. The services of different external
advisors were enlisted. Recognised specialists in their respective fields helped
Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil towards even more precision in their
depiction of their historical adventure.

“The consulting process took several phases and focused on different things,”
explains Fernando Bovaira. “Elisa Garrido, a recognised specialist in the
history of women in the ancient classical world, consulted on historical aspects
during script development. Later on, Justin Pollard, who also consulted on
films such as Atonement and Elizabeth: The Golden Age and himself wrote The
Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind, became involved
during the final phase of pre-production. He came to Malta, met all the heads
of the different departments and spoke with Alejandro about the details for the
art direction.”

Justin Pollard certified the authenticity of everything that was being done, and
its coherence with the era the director wanted to reflect.

“I think authenticity has to be the goal. You can’t claim to be completely
accurate when there’s so much we can’t know. The important thing isn’t
whether or not you agree with every single academic detail; the question is
whether or not the audience believes the world they’re seeing is real. They
suspend disbelief and really think they’re walking through the streets of
Alexandria, a spectacular city on a spectacular scale. It’s a great, ancient,
sweeping city. It’s where Alexander the Great was buried. It was one of the
centres of the ancient world, the greatest port in the Mediterranean. It has a
physically huge scale and the story mentally and emotionally has a huge
scale,” says Pollard.

Apart from experts on the Ancient World, Fernando Bovaira, Alejandro
Amenábar and Mateo Gil also spoke to two researchers and scientists, Javier
Ordóñez and Antonio Mampaso.

“Javier Ordóñez offered us a brilliant geometric solution to the mystery
Hypatia is trying to solve, through the Apollonian cone,” Mateo Gil recalls.

Antonio Mampaso was present in the entire process of development of the film,
from the script to the shoot, where he supervised the use of the astronomic
instruments that appear on screen, and served as scientific coach for Rachel
Weisz. He also took a trip with producer, director and co-writer that proved
decisive for the shaping of many of the details of the film.

“I always think it is absolutely necessary to visit the places where my stories
take place. It’s very stimulating to explore a place you know was actually
familiar to the character your film is about,” says the director. “Antonio
Mampaso is an eclipse hunter and he suggested we go with him to see one in
Egypt. We eventually decided not to include any unusual phenomenon in the
story, but it was a wonderful experience. The trip allowed us to find certain
elements that later helped in the visual pitch of the film, such as the amazing Al
Fayum portraits, and, most of all, the mixture of Egyptian, Greco-Roman and
Christian elements. That combination is very present in AGORA.”


Daughter of Theon, the last director of the legendary Library of Alexandria,
Hypatia lived in the 4th century A.D., when the decadence of the Roman Empire
set in and the world began its change towards a new order. Astronomer,
mathematician and philosopher, Hypatia was a noted scientist and a symbol of
tolerance in her native Alexandria. Although her scientific works have been lost,
the image of her that lingers in history is that of a strong woman who devoted
her life to the search for truth.

“We tried to contrast everything that is known about Hypatia,” says Alejandro
Amenábar. “A lot is known about her death, about what she meant in the city
at the time, about her as a character and about what she symbolises. But little
is known about her work. Introducing an astronomical sub-plot, through her
character, allowed us to speculate about the range of her studies, and even
about the heights ancient civilisation might have reached had the Middle Ages
and the fall of the Roman Empire not occurred when they did, as stumbling
blocks, and had the world not been paralysed for 1500 years.”

British actress Rachel Weisz, Oscar winner for The Constant Gardener and well
known for films such as The Mummy, plays Hypatia, the brilliant astronomer.
“I’d never heard of her and I was amazed when I started to read about her and
started to discover things about her, and found that she wasn’t in every day
vocabulary,” says Weisz. “She was an amazing woman and had such an
extraordinary life. She definitely was mythical in XVIII century Europe
amongst the romantic poets. They idealised her and idolised her, wrote poems
about her and she was a romantic heroine. I guess because she was a symbol
of passion and learning and reason and she was killed by fundamentalists.”

“Hypatia embodied two very interesting conditions,” says Mateo Gil. “On the
one hand, she clearly represented the Greek mentality, the search for truth
through thought, in a world in which religions had a great deal of power in
people’s daily lives, and constantly sought to increase that power. On the other
hand, she was a woman in a world of men. She was a woman who wanted to
lead her life as a man would have, with the same freedom to do research and
devote herself to philosophy, like her father. Hence her decision never to give
herself to any man - so she would never be robbed of the freedom she needed…”

A fundamental aspect of the character that Alejandro portrayed very
effectively is that philosophers were expected to always contain their emotions,
which could make them seem distant or cold to us on screen. Rachel Weisz
plays a Hypatia who is passionate about knowledge but must react serenely
before any situation that arises because of her dedication to philosophy. This
quality was required of philosophers and the wise. That is why they played an
important role, as do intellectuals today, in advising politicians who govern,”
says Elisa Garrido.

Hypatia of Alexandria entered history shrouded in legend, much of it related to
her personal life. Admired for her intelligence and respected for the outstanding
position she came to earn in the social hierarchy of the city, she is portrayed by
sources of the day as a woman of great beauty who inspired passion in those
around her.

“Hypatia died a virgin. We know from some of her students’ letters that she
inspired incredible devotion amongst her pupils. Some of her pupils may or
may not have been in love with her. One gets a sense that one of her favourite
pupils probably was in love with her but she was very dignified and noble and
never crossed the teacher/pupil boundary. But it seems that there was
something about her that really inspired her students and they were fiercely
loyal towards her and it was pretty unusual for a woman to be teaching in the
library at that time. Her relevance could very well be due to the moment in
which she lived and the city in which she was born,” comments Rachel Weisz.

In AGORA, two men are trying to win her heart: her slave Davus and Orestes,
one of her students, who later becomes Prefect of Alexandria.

“Davus is a character we invented,” says Alejandro Amenábar, “but he is a key
to showing us the workings of the city, Hypatia’s environment, Greco-Roman
society, and the ancient world in general; how slavery was perceived in the
4th century. Davus isn’t sure whether or not to become a Christian. We see
Christianity in its early years through his eyes, how it evolved from a
persecuted religion into a dominant one. Davus becomes a Parabolano, a
religious faction very characteristic of the era, a group of monks that started
off as an order that helped the needy, and ended up being an armed
appendage of the Church.”

The young British actor, Max Minghella, plays Davus. He came through the
exhaustive casting process conducted in London under the supervision of Jina
Jay, (responsible for casting for projects of such magnitude as The Reader,
Atonement and Munich) and who had previously worked with Amenábar in The

“Davus is quite in love with her, and it is very unreciprocated. It’s essentially
about how these two characters cross and interact in each other’s lives during
a very dramatic time in history,” says Max Minghella.

“Alejandro’s idea that Hypatia’s slave should convert to Christianity in the film
was a master stroke,” says Mateo Gil. “This allowed us to link the two worlds
we were talking about.”

“Hypatia is definitely part of the nobility, the upper class of Alexandrian life,
and what’s fascinating about the culture is that they were thinking about
everything. They were thinking about the trajectory of the moon and the sun
and the stars and they were deeply humanist. But they had this one total and
complete blind spot, which was slavery. They had an entire class of people who
were slaves, who they considered not even to be human. They were considered
to be next to animals. Which is an extraordinary thing when you consider how
deep-thinking and humane they were,” explains Rachel Weisz.

The actor of Guatemalan origin, Oscar Isaac, whom we recently saw in Body of
Lies, undergoes a remarkable transformation in the film. At the beginning,
when we first meet him, he is one of Hypatia’s more idealistic disciples. In the
course of the film, he takes on the military and political responsibilities of the
city, becoming the visible head of the Roman Empire in Alexandria.

“Orestes is a typical example of what the aristocratic youth at that time would
have been like – these boys who are being groomed to be leaders of tomorrow.
Some of them are very ambitious and some of them are skating by on mum
and dad’s money. I think Orestes starts as one of these guys, not sure what he
wants to do; he’s smart, a little arrogant, a little headstrong, and he falls in
love with his teacher Hypatia and he tries to seduce her,” explains Oscar Isaac.

“Orestes allows us to recount one of the most famous anecdotes circulating
about Hypatia and her relations with men,” the director recalls. “But Orestes
also has a key role in the second part of the film: he personifies dialogue and
reconciliation in politics.”

“Hypatia has one of the great love affairs in history, but it’s with the cosmos,”
explains the actress. “Her relationships with men were not documented.
Sources say she was beautiful. But Hypatia’s true love was her work. She gave
herself passionately to her studies, she was obsessed with science. She felt
small before the immensity of the universe and her goal was to unravel its
The tension amongst the three is constant; it is a romantic triangle that can
only explode when the in-fighting begins in the streets of Alexandria. The
conflict that afflicts Hypatia’s world spirals into a profound transformation
during the second part of the story told in AGORA. The protagonists also
change. The work of costume designer Gabriella Pescucci is key to the
understanding of this evolution. Winner of an Oscar for The Age of Innocence
and Costume Designer as well for films no less outstanding, such as Charlie and
the Chocolate Factory, The Adventures of Baron de Munchausen and Once
Upon a Time in America, the Italian designer explains her treatment of colour
for the different characters in the story.

“I depart from the principle that colour is fundamental in my work. In the first
part of the film Hypatia wears clear, luminous clothing because she lives in a
Greek world of philosophers and students. Pagans also wear clear colours.
Christians can be distinguished because they wear grey clothing. This
difference was a suggestion from Alejandro, on which we totally agreed. After
the siege of the Library, Hypatia is a stronger woman and she starts to wear
deep colours because the destruction of the Library has been very painful for
her. I took weeks to decide on the last dress Hypatia was going to wear. I had
close to 200 different tones of red. In the final scene, when Hypatia is
surrounded by the Parabolani, this red dress in the midst of the blackness of
the group transmits not great physical strength, but strength of thought,”
explains Gabriella Pescucci.

A film about a society of such rigid hierarchy, as was Alexandria of the 4th
century, had to have a very clear visual structure, something that transcends
colour and draws on history. It also required exhaustive research.

“During the first years of the feminist movement, there was much talk about
Hypatia,” Gabriella Pescucci recalls. “When Alejandro spoke to me about his
project, I remembered that. She is Greek, but she also is the only woman in the
Library, and she works in a male world. In Hypatia’s costumes there are, of
course, Greco-Roman references, but there also are masculine references; the
toga she wears is a masculine toga. She was a very brave woman, who was
trying to live in the same way as men. That’s why, in the film, she doesn’t wear
a veil, for instance. There are characters, like Cyril, whose physicality is
determining. For Sammy Samir, the dark colour was particularly suitable,
because it reinforced his hierarchic aura, inspired by God. In contrast, for
Synesius, the inspiration was clearly Byzantine, though brought closer to
today, which is something I often do in my work.”

“The film is definitely the story about a woman who refuses to compromise her
ideals and she is a greater woman than I,” explains Rachel Weisz. “She is a
greater woman than most people. I think it’s a very rare thing that someone is
willing to lose their life because of what they believe in. It’s an incredibly noble
and admirable thing. She believes in reason and doubt and she is not willing to
step down from that. It’s pretty bold.”

Davus was one of a dozen slaves a family of privilege like Hypatia’s could afford.
He helps the philosopher not only in the most intimate aspects of her daily
routine, but also accompanies her to her classes. His presence in the classroom
allows him to incorporate the teachings of his mistress into his own education.

“Max has the typical features of the Al Fayum portraits (often used as burial
masks in Egypt in the first century),” explains Alejandro Amenábar. “And like
all the other actors in this film, he has the intellectual depth necessary to play a
slave who knows he’s smarter than the people around him suspect. Because
Davus wants desperately to be a part of that circle and cannot. We looked for
a sophisticated slave with a touch of tenderness, an actor who would also be
believable as a Parabolani in the second half of the film. Someone rough, silent,
with a certain melancholy about him because he still feels out of place. That is
what the character must endure, he spends the entire film looking for himself
but never finds himself.”

“Being a slave, Davus knows he’ll never get what he wants. It’s interesting to
note that his interest in learning is so closely tied to his desire to be accepted
and loved that we never know how genuine his desire to learn really is. I
wanted that question to remain unanswered in the film and I think that
decision benefited the character,” says Max Minghella. “Davus converts
because he wants a home, a family, to be accepted. He never wants to serve
anyone again. He wants to be loved. In the end, he loses his way because he
ends up suspecting that he has chosen the wrong family.”


Orestes represents another axis in the privileged city of Alexandria: that of
political power. He comes from a wealthy family that can afford to educate its
children among the most prestigious wise men (and women) of the time.
Orestes stands out for his impulsive dedication to both knowledge and physical
experiences. He’s a born leader who is cast immediately into that role, shortly
after the civil uprising in the city.

“We combined two true stories in Orestes,” says Alejandro Amenábar. “On one
hand we know that one of Hypatia’s students was in love with her, constantly
pursuing her. Hypatia tried to convince him to dedicate himself to the stars
and later to music, until she appeared in class one day and gave him a
handkerchief stained with blood from her menstrual cycle. This true story
really stands out because it gives us an idea of how determined she was to
dedicate herself to science. Later we have Orestes’ own story, how he later
became Prefect of Alexandria. We joined the two true stories into one. We
needed someone capable of covering those two stages. Oscar is perfect because
he has a naivety about him and at the same time he has the sense of humour
and charisma to make us believe he could be tenacious enough to become a
leader and, of course, that he could be a part of the Library elite. Although
history would later remember Orestes as the one who lost. In that game of
chess played by the Prefect and the Bishop, he came up short. He didn’t see
Cyril’s greatest move coming.”

“It was important for me to give the character a sense of humour, especially
because Orestes had the potential to seem arrogant, high-handed, a thug. So I
wanted to break away from that upper-class attitude, at least in certain
moments, to strengthen his humanity by showing a little irony. I honestly
think Orestes is the type of moderate believer who sometimes looks at himself
from a distance, enabling him to find irony in the things happening around
him,” says Oscar Isaac.


The last director of Alexandria’s second library also happened to be Hypatia’s
father. A philosopher and mathematician, Theon educated his daughter as a
talented student, without regard for her gender. She even co-wrote some of his
most important scientific works. Very little is known about Hypatia’s mother,
except that she was a prestigious musicologist in Alexandria where music was
considered an important form of knowledge tied to philosophy and science.

“Theon insisted on educating his daughter in the ways of philosophy,” says
Alejandro Amenábar. “He must have had a very special mind for his time. In
the film we portray Theon to be somewhat disoriented, an old man reaching
the end of his life who sees things happening much too quickly around him. He
doesn’t understand that he is the last representative of a world that is coming
to an end, that of the philosophers. Michael Lonsdale was ideal to play him
because he is not only a great actor, but also a man who paints and writes. He
understood the social and political reality reflected in the film perfectly and
really understood the script. You look at him and believe he would have
educated his daughter as he did.”

“Theon is a man who deeply abhors fanaticism. He is of pagan origin, and
remains philosophical as different religions grow more powerful around him
because he is by nature a tolerant man. Yes, he’s a philosopher, like his
daughter, and he looks to the heavens for the meaning of life: man, the world,
the stars, mathematics,” says Michael Lonsdale.


The presence of Synesius in Hypatia’s classes confirms that the philosopher
didn’t discriminate against students for belonging to one religion or another.
Synesius was one of Hypatia’s most brilliant pupils and he was a firm believer in
Christianity. Once he became the influential Bishop of Cyrene, he maintained an
extensive friendship with his teacher through hundreds of letters. In them he
always referred to the other pupils who shared her classroom as his “brothers.”

“A great deal of what we know about Hypatia comes from the letters written
by Synesius,” says Alejandro Amenábar. “We took certain dramatic license with
him because he had actually already been dead for some time when Hypatia
was murdered. But prolonging his life in the film helped us show how her circle
was closing around her, how she was being more and more isolated socially
for refusing to convert to Christianity. Rupert Evans, besides being a very
intelligent person, has a great deal of humanity, which keeps his character
from becoming a bad guy. Synesius suffers because he wasn’t able to convince
Hypatia to join his group.”

“When I read the script I was surprised to find out it was based on a true story.
I found it interesting and I was fascinated by the moment in history it reflects.
Synesius is a man who lives on the borderline. He’s a man of faith and at the
same time he’s very diplomatic. In AGORA there are many characters with
strong ideas, while he is an unusual example of a politician (who later becomes
a bishop) trying to understand the world and why its inhabitants belong to the
religions they belong to. Hypatia has taught him the need to seek the truth,”
says Rupert Evans.


When his uncle Pope Theophilus dies, Cyril takes over as Bishop of Alexandria
and the city enters a new stage characterized by intensified civil confrontation.
Like Hypatia and Orestes, Cyril comes from a family firmly anchored in power,
in his case religious power. The bishop’s post was commonly handed down to
members of the same family.

“Today Cyril is considered a Saint, one of the fathers of the Church,” says
Alejandro Amenábar. “Sammy Samir and I argued because he didn’t want to
play the bad guy in the movie. His resistance, however, allowed him to give his
character an added layer of richness. It has never been proven that Cyril gave
the order directly for Hypatia to be killed, but it is clear that he contributed to
the belief that she was diabolical, a witch who used perverse artefacts, and
ended up being murdered by a group of Christians. When his uncle died, he
waged war to succeed him, in the middle of a tremendous bloodbath which
killed many Christians. He then brought about the massacre and expulsion of
all of Alexandria’s Jewish population, and after Hypatia’s death he continued
to instigate bloody wars until he managed to gain control of the entire city. At
the very least he was a controversial figure. He was not exactly the kind of
person we would consider a Saint. If this film pays tribute to Hypatia,
someone who didn’t believe in violence, its antagonist is Cyril.”

“Many scripts seem like great stories loaded with depth the first time you read
them. But not the second time around. The more you read AGORA, the more
meaning you find between the lines. Cyril is, without a doubt, a leader. A
leader who tries to fortify the power of the Christians in Alexandria, but little
by little his desire to strengthen and unite is transformed into the need for
power. Cyril’s influence on the development of Christianity is deep and
Alejandro was able to get close to him without judging him, without making
him a good guy or a bad guy. Let the audience decide,” says Sammy Samir.


Ammonius the monk performs a variety of functions for the Church of
Alexandria, accompanied by the Parabolani. He casts a profound influence over
Davus and the decisions he makes.
“Ammonius represents the best and worst of Christianity,” says the director.
“He’s one of the leaders of the Parabolani. He’s based on a real person: the
monk who threw the first stone at the Prefect. We looked for someone very
charismatic; someone capable of attracting new followers, capable of
convincing Davus that Christianity was based on compassion and charity. But
also someone who might get carried away and end up letting his ideals lead
him to acts of violence. He’s not just a bad guy. Ashraf is a truly gifted
Palestinian actor. He was very adamant about not wanting to make a film
that would offend Christians. I did my best to convince him that this is not a
film against Christianity. I think it pays tribute to a forgotten moment in
history and to a character lost in time. But it is a film against fundamentalism,
against those who defend their ideas with weapons. It’s not against Christians,
and most certainly not against the Christians of today.”

“AGORA is a very deep and harsh story about trying to find God through
religious or by other means. We’re living in very Pagan times in which money
determines almost everything. And this film makes us look back at the role
religion has played in history. Ammonius is not an easy character to
understand, it’s not easy to get inside his head. He’s a manipulative man. I’ve
had to do a lot of research and read a great deal to understand what he does
and how he does it. I tried to find out as much as I could about what life was
like in a Mediterranean city in the Roman Empire in the 4th century and what
would lead a monk like Ammonius to legitimise violence if the orders came
from the leaders of his church, who he believed to be directly connected to God.
Ammonius truly believed he was protecting God,” says Ashraf Barhom.


The city of Alexandria undoubtedly plays a crucial role in AGORA. The mythical
city was, (Alexander the Great ordered it built and it was later named after him),
from its very beginning, completely devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, and
determined to attract the most reputable men of wisdom of its time.
Strategically situated in the north of Africa, its commercial wealth quickly grew,
along with its cultural wealth. It was famous throughout the empire for the great
diversity of its citizens, for its majestic lighthouse, for the singularity of its port,
for the length of its Canopic Way and for the energy and vitality of its market.
Quite a challenge for the art department of the film…

“Alexandria was the first city ever designed,” explains the director. “Little or
nothing of the original Alexandria remains. Now, much is being recovered
from the sea. Alexandria was dominated by Greco-Roman culture because
Alexander the Great wanted to bring Greece to Egypt. If you visit the ruins of
the Library today - the second library, the one that was in the Serapeum -
you’ll see the Pompey column, which is absolutely Greco-Roman, surrounded
by sphinxes: a perfect combination of the two worlds.”

“It’s a melting pot. And they lived in a time that was emotionally and
politically difficult. There had been a lot of political problems. People were
nervous, a lot of people were extremely poor; there was a huge difference
between the rich and the poor in the city. But the city’s great strength had
always been that it was very eclectic; it was the great mix, a melting pot, as its
founders had intended. Nevertheless, the diversity that made it great also
eventually led to its destruction,” explains Justin Pollard.

“In Hypatia’s Alexandria many elements coincide, which are interesting not
only in themselves,” says Mateo Gil, “but also because they bear such striking
resemblance to our time. On the one hand there is the character of Hypatia,
who wishes to be guided by reason, and constantly wonders why things are
the way they are, and seeks the truth; she wants to investigate, to discover, to
think, to doubt. On the other hand, there is a whole melting pot of religions and
interests with many internal power struggles, which make the 4th century an
exciting time. Films that have been made about ancient times have a tendency
to seek periods of more purity. The Hollywood of yesteryear would never have
been as attracted to this period as we are now, because it shares much more in
common with the world today than with the world 40 or 50 years ago. The
difference between the classic sword and sandal adventure films and AGORA
is this film is really more about what’s happening in the world today than it is
about the Roman Empire.”

To make this melting pot of sensibilities a tangible architectural reality,
Fernando Bovaira and Alejandro Amenábar entrusted the production design of
the film to the British production designer Guy Dyas, responsible for the visual
construction of films such as Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and
Superman Returns. No stranger to sizeable challenges, Dyas has worked on
both sides of the Atlantic, and he gladly accepted Alejandro’s offer to build a
legendary city in which the actors would feel at home. Because AGORA is a
classical film, everything that appears on the screen can be touched.

“Guy is a perfect combination between research (he uses many real references)
and imagination,” says the director. “Today, there are things I still recall with
amazement, like Orestes’ throne, an original idea of his, with lions inspired in
an ancient design. And I cannot overemphasize how he made the most of the
money. For example, in the Agora, wherever you place the camera you’ll
always find something interesting, you can always find perspectives. Guy
works a lot with visual dynamism. There never are completely straight lines;
he is always playing with angles, which give great visual dynamism to the

The AGORA team went to Fort Ricasoli, in Malta, to place the grandiose sets of
the film into a context of reality, in a setting that includes Greco-Roman style
buildings, the great square to which the title of the film refers, a Roman
prefecture, pagan temples, Christian churches, a Greek amphitheatre, Hypatia’s
lecture room and the mythical streets of Alexandria with its legendary Library.

“Alexandria was sort of the centre of education, the centre of knowledge; it
was a real sort of cultural hub. To convey that to a modern audience it was
necessary to show the sort of architecture that would have been around at that
time. I mean clearly there are elements left in Alexandria which give us clues
as to what was going on.” Guy Dyas explains.
Guy conceived Alexandria as a monumental, decadent city,” says the director.
“We insisted a lot on the decadence, on worn-out stone, on chipped, flaking
paint. That’s why the use of colour in the architecture was so crucial. It is a
known fact that in the ancient world both sculpture and architecture were
painted. We opted for a kind of washed-out painting which gives great
richness and authenticity to the set, but we were careful to wash it so it doesn’t
look like a film with sets from the fifties.”

“There was a lot of research involved in this project,” says Dyas. “There always
is when you’re trying to reproduce the past. And one thing that was incredibly
helpful was that Alejandro had himself created a sort of a booklet or dossier
that had a lot of the key sets in it in terms of visual reference and architectural
direction. Interestingly enough, at the time the architectural direction was
very Roman in flavour. Which is very interesting, because we ended up
producing a lot of work that obviously looks very Egyptian”…

For the choice of actors and extras to embody ancient Alexandrians in the film
the director always had in his memory, as a reference, the portraits of the graves
of Al Fayum, an important Egyptian archaeological site from the 1st century.
The mummies found in Al Fayum have the faces of the dead painted on them.

“The quality of these portraits is something you can’t imagine until you see it,”
says the director. “After seeing how little remains of ancient Alexandria, it was
exciting to find these portraits, which were like photographs; it was like
someone had dug back 1600 years into the past and brought you the faces of
its inhabitants.”

The other characters who played an important role in Hypatia’s story also
occupy the streets, temples and palaces of Alexandria, as imagined by Alejandro
Amenábar and Guy Dyas. Characters of varied origins: Hypatia’s father, Theon,
(played by French actor Michael Lonsdale); Synesius, another of Hypatia’s
faithful disciples, (played by Rupert Evans), who later became the Bishop of
Cyrene, one of the most valuable sources of information on Hypatia that has
survived through the years thanks to the letters he exchanged with the
philosopher; Cyril (Sammy Samir), Bishop of Alexandria and, according to some
sources, the instigator of her tragic end; Ammonius (Ashraf Barhom), the
Parabolano who captivates Davus; and the Parabolani themselves, one of the
most surprising new elements of the film. It is a cast of great actors who, like the
fictional characters they play, come from the most diverse parts of the planet.

“The Parabolani were a kind of militia formed by monks who at first
performed a great public service,” says Mateo Gil. “They took care of the sick,
lepers and the dead. They helped in all sorts of public tasks. But they soon
became the guardians of public behaviour and even did the dirty work; they
were murderers. They told people how to dress or how to deal with their
private affairs and they acted as an organ of control.”

“The casting process was particularly complex,” explains Fernando Bovaira,
“because Alexandria was a melting pot of cultures and we wanted to reflect
that in the film. We needed actors of different nationalities, to bring different
visions of what was being told in the film. We worked with Jina Jay, and the
results couldn’t be better.”

“It was a unique experience to be filming in Malta,” affirms Rachel Weisz.
“People from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds all together on this set.
So I think it was very international. It was European, South American, Middle
Eastern, lots of representatives from different parts of the world, and all that
being helmed by Alejandro, from Spain. Filming with such an international
cast did give a feeling of the big melting pot that Alexandria was.”

“We strove to avoid a diversity of accents,” says the director. “We played to the
convention that the world of the Library and the Roman world speak English,
with a British accent, and the world of the slaves and the world of the
Christians speak with a Middle Eastern accent. We have Israeli, Palestinian,
Egyptian and Iranian actors. We wanted to avoid even more mixtures.”

“While shooting, there were people from very different places, we were a very
large and diverse team, with a young director at the helm, and everything
worked like a machine because Alejandro showed remarkable leadership, and
was greatly respected by all. That was one of the challenges of the film,” says
Fernando Bovaira.


“During that period, Alexandria was a colourful place, as we might say
nowadays about cities like New York, London or any other large European
capital. People wanted to go there, that fed the mix. Not all the consequences
were positive, but the miscellany worked. Back then, in ancient times, people
didn’t travel like they do now. The overwhelming majority probably only
travelled a few kilometres from where they were born. So visiting a city with
people from everywhere (Africans, northern Europeans, Latinos, Indians,
people from the Near East) probably made it one of the most cosmopolitan
places on Earth. A city with a lot of nightlife, a place to try new things and
meet different sorts of people. It’s no surprise different philosophies coexisted
in Alexandria because people went there to exchange ideas.” Justin Pollard.

“The film is incredibly realistic. But when I read the script I always situated
Alexandria in a modern context, fed by scientific, philosophical and religious
worlds revolving around each other. That’s why I imagined Alexandria like
New York and also like Palestine right now. I felt the film should be neither
modern nor ancient, but situated in a universal time frame, because we’re
talking about the universality of mankind and human emotion.” Xavi Giménez.

“In Hypatia’s Alexandria it wasn’t easy to distinguish social groups, the rich
from the intellectuals. Educated people were of a social and economic position
that allowed them access to education. There were very few cases of people
born into poverty who could prosper; the social mobility we enjoy today didn’t
exist. The classes were much more defined. An intellectual was automatically
an aristocrat or someone from a privileged family, and vice versa, because
they were the only ones who could read and write. It was precisely during that
time that the clergy emerged, a group that admitted the poor and uneducated,
who at times managed to rise within the hierarchy. Many learned to read and
write so that they could read the sacred texts at mass. Those who wanted to
could go far, although the higher clergy members always came from wealthy
families.” Elisa Garrido.

“It was a city with a lot of maritime and commercial activity. Apparently the
Library grew and became a legendary place, in part thanks to a symbolic tax
paid by ships that visited the city: they had to leave a copy of any books they
were carrying. Almost everything was lost in the fire that burned down the
first library. The one that appears in the film was also magnificent, but still
smaller by comparison to the first, which burned down when Julius Caesar
arrived.” Mateo Gil.

“I think that to win over today’s audience you need to show something more
than just the style of architecture that was abundant during that period. Of
course there are elements of Alexandria’s lost architecture that give a clear
indication of what the city must have looked like back then. But it’s more
important to show that the city was an enormous melting pot of cultures that
brought very different styles of architectures to its streets. We’re talking about
Greece, Rome and of course Egypt (where it was built). And I think the
interesting thing about this project is that we could go deeper and deeper into
what this meant during the process of designing it.” Guy Dyas.

“The Parabolani existed exclusively in Egypt. They imposed Alexandria’s
church doctrine by force. In the East several ascetic movements emerged
because people were convinced for a long time of the idea that Christ was
coming back. And they needed to be prepared to greet the triumphant Christ
by atoning for their sins and by doing penitence to obtain salvation. The desert
also offered the perfect opportunity for penitence and many anchorites from
Egypt and Syria renounced everything. They came from humble classes,
rarely were they educated people, rather mystics who preferred to abandon
public life to wait for Christ. They helped others, fasted for long periods of time
and never engaged in sex. They even did penitence for the sins of their
brothers. They didn’t live in one place, they were scattered throughout the
streets and ruins. People let them sleep in their hallways.” Elisa Garrido.

“The curious thing about these places that attract such diverse people is that it
made them as strong as it did weak. Plenty of whimsical emperors ordered
massacres of the Christian population. But not in Alexandria. Alexandria was
the home of the Library, the city of ideas. Only when an individual group tried
to identify and classify those differences did problems arise. We see that as
well in Germany in 1930. People could be best friends one day and mortal
enemies the next morning simply because they had been singled out.” Justin

“Cities aren’t suddenly built and finished overnight, they evolve little by little.
The inspiration for the city’s design came from what Alexandria must have
looked like; we didn’t base it on Rome or Athens. In my opinion, cities tend to
look more alive and realistic if you give the audience more than just ruins, if
you show them what it was like to live there, how it grew and grew.” Guy Dyas.

The logistics necessary for that entire complex machinery to work depend to a
large extent on the line producer, Jose Luis Escolar who has vast experience in
international productions, (Kingdom of Heaven, Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen).

“My first aim when I read the script was to find a place where we could
reconstruct Alexandria, ancient Alexandria today,” recalls Escolar. “We visited
locations in Spain, Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco, but Malta had a higher
percentage of what we needed in terms of light and space. Fort Ricasoli proved
inspiring for the film. Furthermore, the faces of the people who were potential
extras were magnificent. And since big productions such as Troy and
Gladiator had been shot there, it also had craftsmen that are very technically
and artistically prepared to build the sets, as well as people very experienced
in shoots.”

AGORA is one of the most ambitious European film productions of all time. It is
an undertaking that has been possible thanks to the human capital brought
together for this production. It required an assembly of the very best
professionals for the achievement of excellence.

“Malta was fundamental in this film. We wouldn’t have been able to do it
anywhere else,” says Bovaira. “It also allowed us to create an atmosphere of
work beyond borders that was very beneficial to the project. When we started
to work on the film it immediately became clear that it should have an
international projection. It was too big and too ambitious a project to be shot
in Spanish. We decided to create a multinational team, mainly European, and
I think we’ve managed to give the film a work climate that transcends the
notion of nationalities.”

“There is a very naturalist focus, in the story as well as in the production,” says
Mateo Gil. “The audience is going to find the actions and reactions of the
characters very credible and natural, which is very important for a story as
big as this if it is to really reach the audience. But beyond its naturalism, the
angle given to the characters, the narrative focus of the film is very classical. It
draws on a genre, Classic Epic, but also updates it by narrating in a more
contemporary way. It is a very interesting experiment; the masses of people
we see moving in the streets are real. It isn’t some computer drawing.
Everything you see has a very important texture of reality.”

To create this both naturalist and contemporary tapestry, Xavi Giménez’s vision
was fundamental. He has worked as director of photography on such films as
Transsiberian and La gran aventura de Mortadelo y Filemón.

“I chose Xavi because his work over the last few years has been spectacular,”
says the director. “Furthermore, I was looking for someone of a similar spirit,
who understood the harshness of the sun. Someone who knew how to use the
sun we were inevitably going to have in Malta, someone who could play with it
and use it to our advantage. It’s a sun that dazzles, that generates a strongly
contrasted image, which I think is beneficial to the film.”
Xavi Giménez: “Normally, the director of photography comes into the project
when the aesthetic base of the film has already been established. It was not the
case here. Here, it was perceived from the very beginning that the DOP was
going to be a figure of notable weight. Alejandro, Guy and I met several times
during the preparation, and the aesthetic was gradually shaped as we
advanced in the project, because a film is something organic. AGORA
gradually developed into something pictorial, which could be touched,
symbolic even. The references for this film are based more on emotions and
sentiments than on visual parameters seen in other films.”

“Hypatia was the aesthetic centre of the film, and quite a different one at that,”
says Giménez. “That’s why Hypatia’s philosophical point of view influenced
how the film was visualized. Hypatia is the film’s source of light; she
illuminates everything around her. She’s the Lighthouse and she administers
the beauty of the film, even though destructive things occur around her.
Hypatia is the transmission of knowledge, she represents thought and beauty,
she teaches and learns at the same time. We didn’t give her beautiful lighting
because she’s the main character. We gave her different brightness, texture
and colour because we wanted her humanity to stand out, based on doubt. She
is the sun of the film, and through her eyes we discover what is happening.”

“This film is a tribute to scientists in general,” says the director. “We wanted the
film to show the line of thinking followed by all astronomers over the course of
two thousand years, which is thrilling because after all they are people who
simply looked up at the sky one night, just like any of us. I look at the sky and I
feel fascinated by what I see, I ask myself all sorts of questions but I’m unable
to find any answers. That is what scientists have done: find answers over the
course of thousands of years.”

In order to understand Hypatia’s discovery, Antonio Mampaso’s contribution
was crucial. Since then, the skies and astronomers have changed a great deal.

“When Hypatia was alive they were already enjoying the fruit of years of
scientific research. The movement of the planets had been documented by
Ptolemy and Hipparchus, and precise instruments had been invented that
allowed their theories to be tested. For the first time these two factors
coincided. The astrolabe, one of the most important astronomical instruments
ever created, was developed during that time and Hypatia would have
certainly been aware of it. The measurements supplied by the astrolabe and
other instruments eventually allowed them to perfect the sky model and
discard the previously established geocentric model, replacing it with the
heliocentric model, which we know today to be correct. This discovery
propelled not only astronomy... it was revolutionary also in a social context,
because cosmological and scientific theories had taken root and greatly
influenced society through social and religious order. We’re talking about the
moment the system changed,” says Antonio Mampaso.

That journey to the past with present-day references greatly informed the way
the entire film was pitched from the outset. From the work of the various art
departments to the visual effects. AGORA is a contemporary fresco with
innovative production.

“Gabriella, for example,” says Alejandro Amenábar, “works a lot on present
day references, which I find very interesting. To portray the world of 1600
years ago, she prefers to look for elements we can still see today in cultures
that are somewhat distant to us, and blend that with the stereotype we have.
In this case, we have the Roman world, the Egyptian world, and a Christian
world, as a forerunner to the Middle Ages. For example, I think the way she
combines the abundant description that exists of the Parabolani with the world
of the Taliban is spectacular. I thought that was a remarkable touch.”

“The people you see in the film are real,” says José Luis Escolar. “The
architecture as well: everything you see in the film has been built. Although
technological tools have been used here like they have never been before,
production and shooting are in keeping with the classical way of doing things.”

“We decided to physically construct and shoot as much as possible,” says the
director. “What was digitally enhanced was done so with great care and
respect for shooting conditions. Not a single detail of what was added or
retouched could in any way undermine the credibility of what was being

“540 shots are going to be introduced via digital retouching, 150 of which are
really big,” explains Felix Bergés. “All of this can be done because Alejandro has
a privileged brain, and he had a clear picture of the film in his head before he
started shooting. Of course, in a shoot there always is improvisation, but the
really important things were conceived beforehand and shot as can be seen in
the computer graphics.

Another tool fundamental to the achievement of that total experience the
director strives for is the soundtrack. On this occasion, the music for the film
was done by Dario Marianelli, composer of the music for films such as
Atonement, (which earned him an Oscar) Pride and Prejudice, and V for

“I asked Dario Marianelli to do the music for AGORA because I wanted new
energy in my cinema in that area,” says Alejandro Amenábar. “I think it is
more and more important to trust collaborators. It is important to have a
good cast of collaborators and not impose a sole vision, no matter how clear in
your own mind things might be. When you get into a film as big as this, you
understand that a musician such as Marianelli opens up new spaces to the
film, spaces I certainly wouldn’t have got to.”

“The realistic element is very important in the visualisation of this film,” Dario
Marianelli explains. “But it might seem strange, in terms of music, to talk about
trying to be realistic. The bigger the film, the more the music has to help you to
get into the story. AGORA is a big film, which needed a big orchestra and
powerful voices to amplify the feeling of being within the screen, of
participating in that massive maze of things, to feel that you’re inside the
conflict or travelling through crowds.”
“Agora has a lot of drama, it is very, very dramatic. It is a very big, grand,
period movie. There are a lot of action sequences, it’s thrilling, there’s a kind of
thriller aspect to it. I think it’s exciting, there’s love, a little drama... and some
unrequited love. It’s incredibly unusual because it’s about this female heroine
that really lived. It’s a true story that’s been buried in the mist of time and it’s
now being told for the first time,” says Rachel Weisz.

“As in my previous film, The Sea Inside, AGORA has given me a kind of peace,
because it allows me to see things with a relative dimension,” says Amenábar.
“It is wonderful to be alive and even more so to feel alive; but we’re rather
small in the midst of the universe. And the sort of vertigo and unrest born out
of being surrounded by outer space, full of stars, stimulates me a great deal
and I hope it does the audience as well.”



AGORA offers the audience a unique visual experience after 35 weeks of
sophisticated post-production work. Felix Bergés is responsible for the digital
effects. A digital effects designer of international fame, he has been behind
recent films such as The Oxford Murders. He worked with a team of
professionals that at times reached as many as 60 people, as is commonplace in
a production of this magnitude. Part of that team, an entire department
dedicated to the development of designing a digital model of ancient Alexandria,
a key piece for the many panoramic shots of the city and the zoom angles used
in AGORA. Magoga Piñas coordinated the digital reconstruction of the city, a
job that began inevitably with her reading many books on ancient architecture
due to the total lack of any graphic testimony. This process began with the
recreation of the geography of the area in the 4th century, drastically changed
today due to several earthquakes, floods, draughts and wars.

“Alejandro wanted Alexandria to look completely normal, natural and
realistic. He wanted the certainty of knowing that if one day he was shooting
with sunlight or with dust, he wanted to see Alexandria as it really existed, as
if we’d shot in a modern city. We also had to recreate Alexandria on every
scale. There are aerial shots of the entire city, satellite images from space of the
Nile River delta, which zoom in and you can see it from every scale. We see
Alexandria at night, in the afternoon, basically at every possible hour and
angle,” says Félix Bergés.

“We had to recreate the landscape, not only the city, but also the geography.
We generated the islands and rivers from that time,” explains Magoga Piñas.
“First we had to create a geographic map to determine the location of Lake
Mariout (separated from the Mediterranean Sea by the narrow isthmus on
which the city of Alexandria was built). Then a series of canals were built as a
base to the landscape, and after that we started reconstructing the city.”
From there they followed the map of ancient Alexandria. Very few of the streets
of the original city commissioned by Alexander the Great remain today.

“It was very important to recover the original ground plan of the city, so we
contacted the Graphic Design Department at Madrid Polytechnic University.
They put us in contact with Daniel Aragoneses. He worked on a plan that
included all the latest discoveries: the Yale studies and Frank Godio’s
excavations in the sea, to establish a framework that was as exact as possible.
He worked on two scales: the first, very general, and another that was real
scale because we wanted to recreate the architectonic typology of the area. It
was a difficult challenge because it was a large city without tall buildings and
it was tremendously important,” says Magoga Piñas.

If the ground has changed, the world’s ceiling has as well. The crew submerged
itself in the history of science to offer the audience an exact image of the sky in
the 4th century. Modern references were also necessary, and Félix Bergés
contrasted all of that information with data from NASA, recent studies and
Antonio Mampaso’s expert opinion.

“The sky we see in the film is the real sky,” explains Antonio Mampaso. “We
tried to recreate the sky as it was seen by Hypatia and her peers. Today’s sky
is not exactly the same. The position of the planets has changed, and some of
the changes occur over long periods of time. The stars of the constellations
we’re used to seeing (Ursa Major and Scorpio) change little by little due to
what we call individual movement. Also, since 1600 years have gone by since
Hypatia was alive, some of the stars we see today were not visible at that time
(and vice versa) and all of them have slightly changed their position in the sky,
due to another phenomenon called precession of the Earth’s axis: the axis
points north, but follows a small circle around that position. This is why the
axis of the Earth today (which coincidentally points at the North Star) is not
the same as it was in Hypatia’s time: the sky is different. All of this was taken
into account because the man who recreated the sky, Félix Bergés, is an
astronomer as well as a digital effects expert and he meticulously incorporated
all of this into his work.”

“For me this film was a gift because I’m an astrophysicist,” says Bergés. “We
did some shots that look very much like what the audience would see if it could
observe space with the most powerful telescope in the world. What we want is
to give the spectator the sensation that he can see what is happening in the
universe. Not so much that you’re travelling through the cosmos, but that you
have the possibility of seeing and getting to know the universe. So you can’t
make do here with conventional solutions, like fading to nebula; you require
something more subtle. Spectacular yes, but subtle.”

As is customary in Alejandro Amenábar’s films, sound effects also play a major
role. The man behind them here is Glenn Freemantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
and the sound effects are at the level of the very best international productions.
The director considers sound a facet of cinema crucial to the total experience of
the spectator.
“He’s passionate, and you can see it in the way he shoots; he’s very stylish, he’s
very sensitive, in areas of the film other directors would not pay attention to.
He works at a fantastic pace and he talks you through everything. His films
are a process of collective growth and he trusts his crew,” says Freemantle.

“Science has advanced and has become incredibly specialized, but humanity
hasn’t changed very much. AGORA is the story of a conflict that shook
Alexandria during Hypatia’s time, but much later, in the year 1600, Giordano
Bruno was burned at the stake and Galileo was banished for life for defending
the very same model of the universe that Hypatia defends in the film, the
heliocentric model. Enough astronomers have been killed for their beliefs;
nowadays nobody gets burned at the stake for saying that the Andromeda
Galaxy rotates to the right or to the left. Today it is the science of life, not of
astronomy, that has the most impact on our beliefs and fears. People today
argue about stem cell research, but down deep the conflict hasn’t changed. This
is something we see in AGORA,” says Antonio Mampaso.

MOD PRODUCCIONES is a recently created audiovisual production company.
The company is, at present, involved in its first three projects, which are at
different phases of production.

AGORA, Alejandro Amenábar’s latest film, starring Rachel Weisz, will be
released in the autumn of 2009.

Biutiful, starring Javier Bardem, is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The
film was shot in its entirety in Barcelona, Spain. Currently in post-production.

EL Mal Ajeno, by Oskar Santos, with a cast headed by Eduardo Noriega and
Belen Rueda. Also currently in post-production.


Created in 1995 by Alejandro Amenábar to produce his own short films. The
company’s first feature production was The Sea Inside (2004), directed by
Alejandro Amenábar, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in

It is currently involved in the post-production of El Mal Ajeno, Oskar Santos’
first feature film, with Mod Producciones and Telecinco Cinema as production


Telecinco cinema, the film producing arm of Telecinco television, has been
behind many of the biggest box office Spanish films of recent times, such as “Pan’s
Labyrinth” – a film by Guillermo del Toro, which won three Oscars;
“Alatriste”, by Agustín Díaz Yanes, which starred Viggo Mortensen; “The
Orphanage” by Juan Antonio Bayona, the biggest box office success of 2007
and the second biggest Spanish box office success of all time; “The Oxford
Murders”, by Álex de la Iglesia, recent winner of 3 Goyas. Last year, Telecinco
Cinema participated in two super-productions on the figure of Ché Guevara,
directed by Steven Soderbergh: “Che, The Argentine” which earned Benicio
del Toro Best Actor at Cannes 2008, and “Che, Guerrilla”.
2008. “The Brothers Bloom”, by Rian Johnson
2007. “My Blueberry Nights”, by Wong Kar Wai
2006. “The Fountain”, by Darren Aronofsky
2005. “The Constant Gardener”, by Fernando Meirelles
       Oscar for Best Supporting Actress
       Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress
1999-2001. “The Mummy” and “The Mummy Returns”, by Stephen Sommers


2009 “Hippie, Hippie Shake”, by Beeban Kidron
2009. “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”, by John Krasinski
2008. “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”, by Robert B. Weide
2006. “Art School Confidential”, by Terry Zwigoff
2005. “Syriana”, by Stephen Gaghan

2008. “Body of Lies”, by Ridley Scott
      “Che, The Argentine”, by Steven Soderbergh
2007. “The Life Before Her Eyes”, by Vadim Perelman
2006. “The Nativity Story”, by Catherine Hardwicke
      “PU-239”, by Scott Z. Burns

2007. “The Kingdom”, by Peter Berg
2005. “Paradise Now”, by Hany Abu-Assad
2004. “The Syrian Bride”, by Eran Riklis
    “Ahava Colombianit”, by Shay Kanot


2007. “La question humaine”, de Nicolas Klotz
2006. “Goya's Ghosts”, by Milos Forman
2005. “Munich”, by Steven Spielberg
1974. “The Day of the Jackal”, by Fred Zinnemann.
1962. “The Trial”, by Orson Welles

2008. “Haze”, by David Doak
2004. “Hellboy”, by Guillermo del Toro

MATEO GIL (Co-writer)

2005. “El método”, by Marcelo Pyñeiro
2004. “The Sea Inside”, by Alejandro Amenábar
1999. “Nobody Knows Anybody” (writer and director)
1997. “Open Your Eyes”, by Alejandro Amenábar
1996. “Thesis”, by Alejandro Amenábar


2009. “Biutiful”, by Alejandro G.Iñárritu
2004. “The Sea Inside”, by Alejandro Amenábar
2001. “The Others”, by Alejandro Amenábar
2001. “Sex & Lucía”, by Julio Medem.
1999. “Butterfly”, by José L.Cuerda
1997. “Open Your Eyes”, by Alejandro Amenábar


2006. “Kingdom of Heaven”, by Ridley Scott
2003. “Imagining Argentina”, by Christopher Hampton
1992. “1492: Conquest of Paradise”, by Ridley Scott
1989. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, by Steven Spielberg
1988. “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”, by Terry Gilliam


2008. “Transsiberian”, by Brad Anderson.
2006. “Summer Rain”, by Antonio Banderas.
2004. “The Machinist”, by Brad Anderson.
2003. “La gran aventura de Mortadelo y Filemón”, by Javier Fesser.
2001. “Intacto”, by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.

GUY HENDRIX DYAS (Production Designer)

2008. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, by Steven
2007. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”, by Shekhar Kapur.
2006. “Superman Returns”, by Bryan Singer.
2005. “The Brothers Grimm”, by Terry Gilliam.
2003. “X.Men 2”, by Bryan Singer.


2007. “Beowulf”, by Robert Zemeckis.
2005. “The Brothers Grimm”, by Terry Gilliam.
       “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, by Tim Burton.
2004. “Van Helsing”, by Stephen Sommers.
1993. “The Age of Innocence”, by Martin Scorsese.

2007. “Atonement”, by Joe Wright.
      “Goodbye Bafana”, by Bille August.
2005. “V for Vendetta”, by James McTeigue.
      “The Brothers Grimm”, by Terry Gilliam.
      “Pride and Prejudice”, by Joe Wright.

Shared By: