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Alexander Cooney '11 Brings Ancient Rome Back to Life in "Nova Roma"

November 16, 2009

In a year rich in student film projects at Carleton – there were at least five movie productions underway this fall – Nova Roma, an alternate history of the Roman Empire conceived and directed by Alexander Cooney ’11 (Golden Valley, Minn.), stands out for its creative use of resources.

“We found our cast and crew by calling up the most qualified professionals we could find and asking if they wanted to help us make a movie for free,” Cooney said. Although not everyone they contacted immediately agreed to help, they managed to get enough referrals that their unique approach paid off, and Nova Roma now boasts a production team of 50 professionals from the Twin Cities, including a 22-member art staff and 5 heads of camera and lighting departments. 

Nova Roma tells the story of an alternate universe in which the Roman Empire never fell. According to the movie’s website (, Rome has conquered the world, survived for some two thousand years, and has achieved significant advances in modern technology. All is not good in this new future, however; “attributing their great success to the preservation of their ancient religion and culture, the Romans of this new age still sacrifice animals and enslave their fellow humans.” When the modern Roman Empire runs out of oil, a process of decay begins that erodes the Empire’s ability to control its vast territories and feed its citizens.

“It's a world I've been thinking about and wanting to share for a very long time.  The stars finally aligned this past spring, when Max [Silver ’11 (Chevy Chase, Md.)] agreed to sign on as producer and tackle the logistical nightmare inherent in creating a film set in a world that doesn't exist,” Cooney said.

The help of other Carleton CAMS (Cinema and Media Studies) students has been essential, because the process of filming Nova Roma is filled with logistical difficulties, such as finding and costuming an angry mob of rioters – mostly volunteers from the Carleton community – and scouting locations at Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges, as well as in the Minnesota’s capital city, St. Paul.

Although Cooney hopes to eventually create a trilogy of full-length movies featuring this alternative world, the current project is a short film focused on a single day in the life of a young Roman medical student. He hopes that this movie can be used as an introduction to the world of Nova Roma and can help him to raise the resources for his ambitious project.

“Expect to see college life as it exists in a brutal, dying world that might have been, where no one gets a second chance and the only friend you have at the end of the day is your slave,” Cooney said.

Nova Roma premieres in spring 2010. For more information on Cooney, including pictures from the set of Nova Roma, visit his blog at

Written by Alex Korsunsky '12