Tartu, the intellectual centre of Estonia
As a filmmaker, sometimes all you need is a miniature wooden town as a backdrop: no skyscrapers, no immense overpasses, no gigantic shopping malls. Just a bunch of cozy-looking wooden buildings that can perfectly accommodate the characters of your tightly written script. And a vibe so unique you don’t ever want to leave.
There may be other places like that in the world, but which of them will reward you for bringing your production to them the way Tartu, Estonia’s second biggest city, does? And that reward is both artistic and financial. Should you film your movie here–or in any Estonian spot, for that matter–you might receive a significant cash rebate of up to 30% of your eligible production costs through a wildly gratifying Film Estonia production incentive. Yes, you read that right. Bring your movie to Estonia and you may be eligible for a substantial cash rebate.
There’s another big reason location scouts should add Tartu to their lists: Rarely will you find a city with such an artistic vibe that is also considered the intellectual center of a country, although Talliners (who live in the capital city), tend to disagree. For the rest of us, however, Tartu is a city of boundless cerebral pleasures that lives up to its nickname: “The City of Good Thoughts.” And there is yet another reason a walk in any part of the city feels so rife with creative premonitions and intellectual activity. Tartu is home to the finest university in the Baltic States– in fact in the world–as it is ranked in the top 2% of all universities worldwide.
And to be honest, one shouldn’t really call Tartu a “city.” With an area of barely 15 square miles and a population of about 100,000 people, Tartu is more like a community than a hodge podge of anonymous cookie-cutter flats. Still, it has a modern infrastructure and is easily considered the most livable town in Estonia, with loads of appealing coffee shops and quaint mom-and-pop stores on pretty much every corner.
The first permanent settlement on the site of Tartu, or at least the archaeological evidence pointing to it, dates to as early as the 5th century AD, so if you’re shooting a “10,000 BC” sequel, you’d be historically closer to this era than Tarzana, for example, as the first documented record of the place, was made in 1030 by chroniclers of Kievan Rus.
Like the rest of Estonia, Tartu has had to put up with its share of foreign invaders and rulers over the years (Swedish, Polish, imperial Russian, and other opportunists), but the effect of those occupations doesn’t show so much in Tartu as it does in Tallinn, for example. There is a small “old town,” a tiny maze of pedestrian streets, but it’s nothing like in Tallinn, where time travel becomes a serious possibility. Indeed, the appeal of Tartu lies somewhere else.
To many, it’s the charming streets of Supilinn, a mesmerizing neighborhood, that has made the town as captivating as it is. Supilinn, or “Soup Town” in English (and don’t ask why) is right by the city center. The area started to form in the middle of the 18th century, and it used to be a slum (until “slum” became fashionable). Then, the one- and two-story wooden apartment buildings started to attract hipsters and young professionals who, in turn, redefined Supilinn almost entirely, making the block one of the trendiest in the entire country.
Supilinn, though, is just a small sliver of Tartu. There are countless other unique places in the town (and those that are not could still be fascinating shooting locations). Tartu, however, can be a bit defensive at times, since it sometimes feels like it’s in the backdrop of its rival, the much larger Tallinn. But when you are accepted–and any foreign film crew will be in this trendy place- -you’ll probably want to stay long after you’ve completed the filming you did there.
Used photos: Visit Estonia