A country as a film
Lithuania is fast becoming the region’s filmmaking hotspot. Award-winning directors and international production companies are discovering the country’s picturesque and diverse filming locations and experienced film industry professionals.
HBO has taken advantage of Lithuania’s almost chameleon-like qualities. The creators behind Emmy award-winning Chernobyl (2019) found the sets for the series’ most gripping scenes in Lithuania, including the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant filling in for its infamous Ukrainian counterpart. Meanwhile, Pažaislis Monastery in Kaunas that had featured on miniseries Catherine the Great (2019) earned the Best European Filming Location Award in 2020.
Lithuanian cities have become backdrops for stories set in Imperial Austria, post-war Tokyo, modern-day Sweden, and other historical periods and locations. Vilnius has even featured in the penultimate season of Netflix’s worldwide hit Stranger Things.
Telling the stories of history’s most prominent women
Interestingly, Lithuania has often become the backdrop for cinematic retellings of the lives of Europe’s most prominent women. The reign of the formidable Russian empress, Catherine the Great, came to life in the eponymous HBO miniseries, shot in large part in Lithuania. With the titular character played by Dame Helen Mirren, Catherine the Great (2019) earned Pažaislis Monastery in Kaunas the Best European Filming Location Award in 2020. A true pearl of Baroque architecture, Pažaislis and other impressive historical sites in Lithuania stood in for 18th century Saint Petersburg.
Vilnius Old Town transformed into Imperial Austria for another royal story –German TV series Sisi (2021). The costume drama, which follows the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, had the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society building standing in for the exterior of Hofburg, the Habsburg royal residence in Vienna. Meanwhile, the Renaissance buildings of Vilnius University served as interior sets.
Lithuania was also selected to host the production of Lasse Hallström’s new project Hilma. The Swedish filmmaker, who has created such well-known films as The Cider House Rules (1999), and Chocolat (2000), directed a film exploring the enigmatic life of Hilma af Klint. The feminist pioneer, whose unconventional art and spirituality meant her 1,300 works remained largely unknown for decades, is now recognised as one of the Western world’s first abstract artists.
Building a reputation
“Year by year, Lithuania is consolidating its reputation as a country with a great appeal for international film production. Competition in the film industry in Europe is very high, and tax incentives are the first thing international companies inquire about before entering the market. Lithuania did its homework in 2014 by introducing a tax incentive scheme, which today allows foreign producers to save up to 30 percent of production costs when shooting here. But no less important is the quality of local production teams – Lithuania has a rich filmmaking history and the skills of our film professionals meet all global standards,” says Jūratė Pazikaitė, Head of Vilnius Film Office.
Lithuania has been the perfect partner for foreign filmmakers in creating world-class films and TV shows. As the film industry is getting back on track after the pandemic, Lithuania is ready to welcome many more successful productions that showcase the beauty of the country’s cities and the talent of local production teams.
Winning highest awards and entering Netflix and HBO
Films by Lithuanian filmmakers win top awards at festivals and are available on TV platforms Netflix and HBO.
- In 2021 Piligrimai (Pilgrims) by Laurynas Bareiša won the Orizzonti Award for Best Film at the Venice International Film Festival. The Orizzonti section of the prestigious Venice International Film Festival is dedicated to the international competition of films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends. Laurynas Bareiša believes that his film, with a budget of only 308,000 euros, convinced the jury because of its simplicity. The film is available on the HBO TV platform.
- In 2022, Aurora’s Sunrise, a film co-produced by Armenia, Germany, and Lithuania, has received international recognition. The film, telling the story of a forgotten genocide survivor turned silent Hollywood film star and philanthropist, won in the Best Animated Film category of the 15thAsia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA). ““This award is important not only for us personally but also for the entire Lithuanian film industry as it builds bridges between the cultural and film industries of the Asia-Pacific region and Lithuania, and, at the same time, as representatives of a small country, we have been recognized in the context of a larger region and cultural diversity. It’s really inspiring,” said producer Kęstutis Drazdauskas after receiving the award.
- Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper’s Vesperwon the Jury Prize at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (2022) and the Best Production Design Award at the Grimmfest (2022). Made on a reported budget of just €5 million, the movie managed to conjure up an impressively haunting vision of a decaying Earth that is only barely being kept alive by technology. Vesper is now available on Netflix in Ireland and the UK.
- Mariupol 2, a film by Mantas Kvedaravičius, won the Best Documentary Film award (2022) at the European Film Awards in Reykjavik. The legacy of the director who was tragically killed in Ukraine is now more important than ever – Mariupol 2 revealed to the world the everyday life of Ukrainians. In June 2022, Mariupol 2 was awarded with the Special Documentary Film Award at the Cannes Film Festival. “For a very radical, courageous, artistic and existential work, Mariupol 2,” said the jury back then.
- Maria Kavtaradze has been named the Best Director at the prestigious 2023 Sundance Film Festival for her film Slow is an asexual romantic drama showing the creation of a relationship – and a different way to love.