Estonia has long been an appealing option for filmmakers, not only because of the country’s iconic cathedrals, but also because of the generous cash rebate system it extends to filmmakers.
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Thor: The Dark World” and “Sherlock Holmes” are all movies with a surprising element in common: They were all filmed, at least partially, in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. While the UK is indeed a wonderful country, and London is its unparalleled jewel, taking a whole movie production there could be financially challenging, as the capital of England is officially the 8th most expensive city in the world for doing business and living. It may not be as costly as Zurich or Geneva, but it is a money pit nevertheless.
Luckily, though, there are other stunning cathedrals in other parts of the world, places where money buys more. Estonia, as a matter of fact, has long been an appealing option for filmmakers, not only because of the country’s iconic cathedrals, but also because of the generous cash rebate system it extends to filmmakers. Cathedrals in Estonia are of three religious denominations: Lutheran, Orthodox and Catholic.
The most iconic of these cathedrals has to be Alexander Nevsky in Tallinn, which was built between 1894 and 1900 in typical Russian Revival style. Estonia was part of the Russian Empire at the time, and the building–enormous by the standards of its day–was to remind locals of that fact. The cathedral was dedicated to St. Alexander Nevsky, who won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus. The cathedral is lavishly decorated (as is typical of Orthodox cathedrals) and has 11 bells, the largest weighing a colossal 16 tons. It is situated on the hill of Toompea, which is–among many other things–home to the Estonian parliament. In fact, the parliament building stands right opposite the cathedral, suggesting a somewhat symbolic standoff between two antagonistic power centers. Regardless of any bad blood there might have been between Russians and Estonians, the church was restored after Estonia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
In these times of uncertainty, however, you should consider taking your production to this remarkable site right now, as plans to demolish the building are as old as the cathedral itself. Estonian authorities scheduled the cathedral for demolition in 1924, but at the time, the government didn’t have enough money to tear down such a massive structure. After regaining its independence, Estonia revisited the plan–after all, the cathedral is a robust symbol of Russian oppression–but it hasn’t happened yet.
Another splendid Estonian church is the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin, also in Tallinn. Originally a Roman Catholic cathedral, it now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the largest Christian denomination in the country. The church was built by the Danes in the 13th century, making St. Mary’s the oldest church on mainland Estonia. It is also the only building on the Toompea hill to survive a fire in the 17th century, albeit it did a lot of damage, and the church had to be rebuilt to restore it to its previous state.
One of the cathedral’s selling points is a volume of different kinds of tombstones from the 13th to the18th century. Imagine what could happen should a Night at the Museum-esque situation emerge! No kidding, many notable people are buried here, from the Bohemian nobleman Jindřich Matyáš Thurn to Swedish field marshals, so the unexpected is certainly a possibility.
Filming in Estonia is considerably more affordable than using better-known European churches you’ve probably seen many times, and, yes, you could also receive a healthy cash rebate up to 30% on eligible production costs if you shoot your cathedral scenes in Tallinn (or any Estonian city with a gorgeous house of God). If making back a hefty portion of your production costs will make you feel guilty, and making money in the process seems like an exploitation of sorts, then know this: It’s a two-way street, as your film could boost Estonia’s tourism like the Harry Potter franchise did for England.
Used photos: Visit Estonia