13 October 2020

Made in the NSFA: Five latest international projects shot in the North Star Film Alliance countries

On top of the versatile backdrops conjured by an eclectic mixture of architecture and stunning landscapes, the NSFA countries also offer low production costs and generous national and regional incentives. With prime locations in close proximity to each other, one can shoot the monumental Soviet exotica of Tallinn in the morning, Art Nouveau Riga in the evening and experience the endless snow and aurora borealis of the Arctic Finland the next day. Here’s a closer look at the recent international projects that have taken advantage of the fantastic opportunities the region has to offer.

TENET (USA, 2019)

The first major new Hollywood release since the global pandemic hit in March, Christopher Nolan’s (Dunkirk, 2017; Interstellar, 2014) time-warping cinematic spectacle Tenet was shot in seven countries, including in Estonia where the local Allfilm provided production services for the epic spy thriller. The country, which had its cash rebate officially capped at 2.5 million euros, made a special case and provided over 5 million rebate for the project.

 As a former Soviet country, Estonia exhibits many architectural remnants of the regime, such as housing blocks as well as monumental public buildings and spaces, which also make an appearance in Tenet

Maarjamäe memorial, photo by Georg Svidlov

One of the most astonishing set-pieces in the film, a high-speed car chase, was filmed on Laagna road – a busy road connecting central Tallinn to Soviet-built region Lasnamäe. Nolan shot the scene over several days during which the road remained closed: ‘It was an honour to shoot at Tallinn’s historic Linnahall, and the Laagna Tee was the perfect location to shoot what was an incredibly demanding stunt sequence. The support of the mayor of Tallinn, as well as the public, was integral to our accomplishing it and the results are on the screen.’


Laagna road. Photo by Kadi-Liis Koppel

Linnahall, a monumental brutalist venue built for the Tallinn sailing regatta of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, is the setting for
Tenet‘s opening scene. The derelict building got a little touch up before the shooting began and served as the Kyiv Opera House on the screen, ‘blown up’ by the terrorists.
In The Secrets of Tenet: Inside Christopher Nolan’s Quantum Cold War, a book about the completion of the film, Nolan shed light on choosing Tallinn as one of the locations: ‘We are always looking for places that are not very well known. What made Tallinn so wonderful and stand out from other cities is that no Hollywood film had been made there before and that also made the city very attractive.’

Location: Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia. Photo by Georg Svidlov for Visit Tallinn

After successfully hosting Nolan and his crew, Tallinn is no longer undiscovered to major Hollywood productions but rather, has now proved itself as a city boasting with exciting locations and welcoming cooperation.


HERO (South Korea, 2020)

Based on a true story, Korean historical musical Hero directed by Yoon Je-kyun (Haeundae, 2009;  Ode to My Father, 2014), tells the last year of the independence fighter An Jung-geun, who assassinated Japanese statesman Itō Hirobumi in 1909. 

Shot both in Korea and Latvia – the only location outside of Korea – Hero is a collaboration between Latvia’s Film Angels Studio and lead producer JK Film, involving film professionals from both countries. The scenes in Latvia were filmed in Riga Old Town and Cinevilla Studio, featuring as the Russian city Vladivostok.

On the set of Hero in Riga’s Dome Square

Riga was chosen for being one of the most carefully preserved historical cities in the world. Riga Old Town is a Unesco Heritage site and perceived to have the most excellent collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. It also features other architectural styles such as Romanticism, Gothic, Baroque and Soviet architecture making it a great destination for shooting period films. 

CJ Entertainment, the distribution company also behind Bong Joon-ho’s award-winning Parasite, initially planned to release Hero this summer but has had to postpone the date.


WAR (India, 2019)

The highest-grossing Bollywood film of 2019, director Siddharth Anand’s (Bang Bang!, 2014)  War, starring two popular Indian action heroes Hrithik Roshan (Super 30, 2019) and Tiger Shroff (Baaghi, 2016), spans countries and cities. 

It follows an Indian soldier assigned to eliminate his former mentor who has gone rogue after an unexpected kill. The film’s climax – a stunning action sequence, set at the backdrop of a frozen lake and snowy forests – was shot in the Arctic Circle, becoming the first Indian film to do so as well as the largest production ever to film in Finnish Lapland. 

On the Arctic set of War. Photo by: Service production company Grillifilms / Production company Yash Raj Films

The region with guaranteed snow – something that in the world is getting rarer by the minute – was the perfect choice for Anand as he shared with House of Lapland: ‘I wanted snow, just endless snow. And from a cinematic point of view, the snow and especially the trees with such beautiful light falling on them at any time of year, it’s just too gorgeous. And the unparalleled visuals we found in Finland were like a director’s dream!’ 

On top of that, it was the national 25% cash rebate and the skilled production company – Grillifilms – handling things on the Finnish side that also determined the choice to shoot in Finland as opposed to the neighbouring country of Sweden.


SNOW FLOWER (Japan, 2019)

Another Asian director to utilise the extraordinary Finnish landscape in their picture is Kôjirô Hashimoto (Little Love Song, 2019) with his romantic coming-of-age film Snow Flower. Apart from love, aurora borealis also feature in the centre of the story. The protagonist, the terminally ill Miyuki (Ayami Nakajô), dreams of going to Finland to see the northern lights. When she meets an aspiring glassmaker Yusuke (Hiroomi Tosaka), her dream finally comes true. 

Film still: Snow Flower

Snow Flower, produced through a production committee headed by Warner Bros. Japan with Warner Bros. Finland handling the Finnish production coordination for the pic, features the mesmerising Arctic Finland as well as the streets of Helsinki and of course – the northern lights. 

Auroras are a frequent phenomenon in Lapland, but uncommon for most parts of the world, making it a unique destination for film-makers wishing to capture them, and easy travel between Lapland and the capital city of Helsinki further benefits the production process. 

While Europe went into lockdown and film and TV productions halted, fantasy horror movie WarHunt, starring Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, 2008; Sin City, 2005), continued to shoot in Riga. Produced by Berkeley Media Group with Latvia’s Forma Pro Films and helmed by director Mauro Borrelli (The Recall, 2017), WarHunt tells the story of an elite squad of American soldiers who come face-to-face with a coven of witches while on a secret mission during WWII. 

 With a low population density and an exemplary approach towards the pandemic, Latvia tackled the coronavirus threat head-on and now holds the impressively lowest Covid-19 infection rate in Europe. The crew of WarHunt was also only permitted to carry on filming under the strict government guidelines: wearing face masks and gloves, disinfecting procedures, social distancing and temperature checks, and successfully managed to wrap the shoot despite the unique situation.


From early 20th century Vladivostok, Mickey Rourke and WWII witches; Arctic car chases to snowy love stories; Chris Nolan and time-inverting spies – the compact Baltic Sea region of Finland, Estonia and Latvia can host them all and many more. Here’s to the new exciting adventures to come!