Amenabar's "Agora" picked up for U.S. release

Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:36am EST
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By Steven Zeitchik

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Agora," filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar's intellectual epic starring Rachel Weisz, a feature that sat without a U.S. buyer for six months, has found a stateside home.

Newmarket Films has picked up U.S. rights to the film and is prepping a release for the first half of 2010.

The English-language "Agora" tells the story of religious conflict in Roman-governed Alexandria as the Christians and pagans battle, often violently, for religious and intellectual supremacy. The story centers on the enlightened thinker Hypatia (Weisz) and the philosophical and romantic conflicts she faces. Max Minghella also stars.

Mateo Gil wrote the script with Amenabar. MOD Prods., Himenoptero and Telecinco produced the picture with the participation of Canal Plus Spain.

The film rode into the Cannes festival with high expectations, fueled by both its star cast and Amenabar, who was behind Oscar winner "The Sea Inside" and high-end genre breakout "The Others."

But because of the film's dense subject matter, the cautious and depleted ranks of U.S. buyers were not eager to make a deal. The movie opened in October in Spain, where it topped the box office with a $8 million on opening weekend and went on to gross about $30 million, outearning many Hollywood blockbusters in the market.

Newmarket was recently acquired by Exclusive Media Group, the parent company of indie banners Hammer Pictures and Spitfire Films. The distribution label, run by co-chairmen Chris Ball and Nigel Sinclair, also picked up Jon Amiel's Charles Darwin biopic "Creation" out of the Toronto International Film Festival.