Vilnius – a New Hollywood North?

Torontonian movie buffs may know that our city has been called Hollywood North, with many productions being filmed here. Now, on the other side of the pond, Vilnius is also becoming a popular “Northern” site for filming as well. Back in 2019, noted that film and TV production crews from around the globe were discovering the Lithuanian capital as a great shooting location. Vilnius’ diverse architecture has stood in for Imperial Russia and 1930s Germany, Jack the Ripper’s London and even mid-century Tokyo.
Currently, Vilnius has been transformed into a filming location for Sisi, a costume TV drama about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Some of the famous locations in the city and elsewhere in Lithuania were picked for their resemblance to the Habsburg royal palace, according to a press release by Go Vilnius, the official website for tourism and business in Vilnius.

A scene from the series Sisi (Photo from the Vilnius Film Office)

The series is produced by the German film production company Story House Pictures GmbH and will be aired on RTL. Other filming locations are in Latvia and Germany, but most of the show is mainly filmed in and around Vilnius.

The early-20th-century Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society building is standing in for the exterior of Hofburg, the Habsburg royal residence. The Renaissance buildings of Vilnius University are the backdrops for scenes set in the Austrian royal palace. Other locations used in the show include the Church of St. Johns, Lithuanian Writers’ Union building, and the Franciscan Monastery.

Director of the Vilnius Film Office Jūratė Pazikaitė noted that Lithuania has been an attractive choice for many film and television creators for the last several years due to the availability of highly professional staff, convenient logistics, various architectural locations, and tax incentives for cinema.

If the first series is successful, the second season of Sisi will also be filmed in the Baltics, she added. Empress Elisabeth of Austria, or Sisi, is a popular figure and has been previously depicted by actors like Romy Schneider and Ava Gardner.

“It is a story about emancipation. A story of a woman who comes into a position where she has to fight for her self-esteem, and for her role not only as a politician, but also as a woman,” explained Sven Bohse, a famous German filmmaker and director of the series. Filming the series was the first occasion for Bohse to visit the Baltic states, he said, and he was very surprised by the “Mediterranean atmosphere” of Vilnius. “I feel totally fine here. It is a very nice country, with nice cities and people. The way people are sitting outside and the relaxed atmosphere everywhere give off a very pleasant impression,” commented Bohse. “I think there were two reasons why we made a decision to shoot the series here. One of them was funding. Also, here in Lithuania you have very experienced production companies and crews, stunning old buildings, and horses, everything you need for shooting a historical movie.”

An international team of some 200 film professionals from Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania are working on the series in Vilnius. Almost 100 are local artists and technicians. A Lithuanian, Algirdas Garbačiauskas, was also appointed as the artistic director for the series, an interesting challenge for him because as a historical series it requires creative solutions to create the appropriate atmosphere.

Filming in Lithuania is handled by Nordic Productions UAB. The company has also worked on Siberian Upbringing with John Malkovich, Eleanor Tomlinson, Peter Stormare, and on the popular Italian series Anna Karenina.

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