Filmmaker uncovers mysteries of ancient structures

This week, cinemagoers are invited to Explore some of the world’s beautiful, ancient architecture with award-winning filmmaker Gary Glassman as he uncovers the mysteries of famous structures.

“It is an engaging idea,” Glassman said. “But, as a filmmaker, you have to think in terms of, ‘What are you going to do?,’ ‘What are people going to see?’ and ‘How do you make that idea actually come to life?’ ”

Glassman will present three of his films this week, the first being “Colosseum: Roman Death Trap” at 12:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Cinema. Following each film, Glassman will host a Q-and-A session for the audience.

The other two films of his series, “Petra: Lost City of Stone,” and “Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Ancient Mystery,” show at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday and 12:30 p.m. Friday, respectively. Regular cinema fees apply.

“There is an overall concept to the three films, and they’re sort of a continuing series that I have been doing that I call ‘building wonders,’ ” Glassman said. “The idea behind it is that certain buildings are the physical embodiment of the ideals of a particular culture and moment in time — they are snapshots in stone.”

If ancient cultures had a Facebook, these buildings would be their profile pictures, Glassman said, since these buildings represent cultural identities.

“What I have been doing is looking at the specific building and thinking of what aspect we can actually construct that crystallizes the concept of the building,” he said.

Death and gladiator battles come to mind when people think of the Colosseum, Glassman said, but “the amazing aspect is that it was a place of theatricalized mass execution.”

While thinking about how to represent that, Glassman and a team of archaeologists, engineers and scientists found passages in ancient texts that talked about animals magically appearing from beneath the arena, scenery appearing and mythological scenes that ultimately all end in some form of death.

“We wanted to figure out what did they build to create the effect of animals magically appearing,” he said. “We built a lift and trapdoor system, and released a wolf into the arena for the first time in 1,500 years.”

Glassman said the projects are time machines and windows to the past, giving a glimpse of what was in the minds of people who conceived them and the audiences who watched it.

In “Petra: Lost City of Stone,” a team of engineers work to uncover the mysteries of the ancient desert civilization located in Jordan.

Archaeologists estimate that at the height of Petra, there were 30,000 people living there in the middle of the desert, Glassman said. Research is being conducted on how the inhabitants, Nabateans, transferred water to the desert and carved tombs into high cliffs.

“Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Ancient Mystery” is about a unique ancient building that symbolizes two religions: Christianity and Islam. This structure has survived countless earthquakes in nearly 1,500 years.

According to the documentary, Hagia Sophia transitioned from a Christian church to a Muslim mosque and is now a secular museum. Engineers have teamed up and built a model of the structure to strike it with simulated earthquakes, revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the building.