The silver screen historical drama Agora will be premiered in Cannes tomorrow evening, generating worldwide publicity for Malta where it was shot. It should be released in the autumn.

The movie, which was shot between March and June last year, represents a first for Malta in many respects and is expected to help the sector to move up a notch in terms of local involvement in larger productions.

Malta Film Commissioner Luisa Bonello said Agora had a major impact on Malta, allowing local crew to gain unprecedented experience on a top-quality production.

"This should affect the island's ability to service future productions," she maintained.

Agora, which directly injected €17.5 million into the local economy, was the only movie to be shot in Malta in its entirety; for the first time, local crew occupied positions normally taken up by foreigners; and an unprecedented three of the principal actors were Maltese - Manuel Cauchi, Charles Thake and Harry Borg.

"On an international level, the fact that the entire film was shot in Malta is excellent publicity," Ms Bonello maintained.

Agora's overall budget - around €55 million - was the second largest for a European movie after Asterix & Obelix, she pointed out.

A Spanish production, financed by Spanish money and with a Spanish director and producers, Agora could have easily been filmed in Spain. But it chose Malta due to its economic viability, she said. The island fought off stiff competition from Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco.

Moreover, the level of craftsmanship to build a set of such scale and detail was hard to find in Spain, Ms Bonello said. An extensive set was constructed at Fort Ricasoli, including an amphitheatre that has been retained for future productions, creating the first film-specific props depot.

Malta's financial incentives - a cash rebate on eligible EU expenditure -was also a determining factor in the producers' choice of location, she said.

Filming facts & figures

• A historical drama set in Roman Egypt in 391 AD, Agora tells the story of a slave, who turns to the rising tide of Christianity in the hope of pursuing freedom, while also falling in love with his master, the famous female philosophy professor and atheist Hypatia of Alexandria.

• The movie stars Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) and Max Minghella, son of Academy Award-winning director Anthony Minghella, who died while he was filming in Malta.

• It is directed by the young Oscar-winning director Alejandro Amenábar. The 37-year-old Spaniard won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for El Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside), and Agora is his second English-language film after The Others, starring Nicole Kidman.

• By the end of shooting, over 700 Maltese were employed with the production crew.

• Construction personnel alone - many of who were trained with the best in the business - cost the production €2 million.

• About 100 daily players were also cast locally, while 20,000 extra days were used, at a total cost of €1.2 million.

• €1.2 million was also spent on accommodation, with approximately 20,000 bed nights in local hotels and rented apartments.

• About 12,500 weeks of car hire were bought by the production.

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