EUFCN Location Award 2020 Finalist: Pažaislis Monastery

On the Kaunas Lagoon peninsula, surrounded by an enchanting forest, a Catholic Monastery helped to recreate the splendid world of one of the most powerful monarchs in history.

The Pažaislis Church and Monastery Complex is one of the finalists of the EUFCN Location Award, the annual prize for European film locations organized by the European Film Commissions Network (EUFCN) in collaboration with Cineuropa. The location was submitted by the Kaunas Film Office.

Supervising Location Manager Jonas Spokas, and Producers Gary Tuck and Lineta Miseikyte describe how the Monastery was transformed to host the production of the HBO/Sky miniseries Catherine the Great.

©Andrius Aleksandravicius – ©Hal Shinnie Sky/HBO

Lithuania’s Pažaislis Monastery is one of the most magnificent examples of Baroque architecture in North-Eastern Europe.

The shrines were built in the 17th century by the Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Kristupas Žygimantas Pacas (1621–1684) for the Camaldolese monks in a remote forest in the Kaunas Lagoon peninsula.

“It’s not surprising that when the director Phillip Martin saw the place he immediately decided to shoot there,” says Jonas Spokas, Supervising Location Manager on Catherine the Great. “Pažaislis had to show the magnitude of the Russian world. It was an exceptional challenge for the production department. The Catholic church had to be turned into an Orthodox church for one of the scenes.”

© Andrius Aleksandravicius

Some of the scenes of the HBO and Sky four-part series about the tumultuous reign of Empress Catherine II of Russia were filmed in this location.

The ensemble was designed by Italian architect Giovanni Battista Frediani, decorated with moldings by Lombardy’s craftsmen and frescoes by Florentine painter Michele Arcangelo Palloni.

The Monastery never hosted a filming of this scale. The conversion of the Pažaislis church into an Orthodox church was an amazing feat requiring the removal of wooden pews that had not been disturbed in over a hundred years. Art department endeavors were completed with the utmost care and delicacy.

© Aurelijus Silkinis

The breathtaking history of the monastery, which has lasted for more than three centuries, is marked by various spiritual traditions, wars, fires and destruction. In Catherine the Great, parts of the Monastery became guards’ barracks.

“The Pažaislis Monastery was a perfect match for the Preobrazhensky Guards Barracks, one of the major locations in the miniseries,” says Gary Tuck, Producer at Baltic Film Services. “The church authorities worked closely with us and our experience was a positive one. We made extensive use of the courtyards and the church and easily accommodated our film unit, large number of extras and horses. We even had the pleasure of a visit from the Mayor of Kaunas.”

©Hal Shinnie Sky/HBO

The uniqueness of the ensemble contributed towards the sense of authenticity in the depiction of the opulent reign of Catherine the Great.

Nowadays, the Complex belongs to the St. Casimir’s Sisters Congregation. In 2011, the Sacral heritage museum was established in the Monastery.

“The Pažaislis Monastery is a truly stunning location,” says Lineta Miseikyte, Producer at Baltic Film Services. “Every director who has seen it has fallen in love with it. We have successfully filmed a number of films in this exceptional setting for over a decade. You just cannot resist returning and want to shoot every single corner of it.”

© Aurelijus Silkinis

The filming of Catherine the Great in Pažaislis Monastery took place in November 2018. This didn’t stop one of the main cast member’s and the producer Jules Hussey from bravely heading for the morning swim in the Kaunas Lagoon in their bathrobes.

“As Pažaislis Church and Monastery is a working complex that holds masses and is a recurring place for visiting pilgrims and tourists, it was our endeavor to treat it with respect,” says Goda Gajauskaite, project manager at Kaunas Film Office. “The nuns that live there welcomed us with hospitality and trust, supporting us during the filming.”

During the shooting of the series, the main cast of Catherine the Great  (Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Gina McKee, Kevin McNally, Joseph Quinn and others) stayed at Monte Pacis, the elegant hospitality complex in the Pažaislis Monastery, just a few steps away from where the set was. A place where visitors can experience the location in the most authentic way.

© Andrius Aleksandravicius

The general public has now the chance to vote for their favourite location among the 5 in the EUFCN Location Award shortlist: Banská Štiavnica for Dracula – Slovak Film Commission (SLOVAKIA), Lake Resia near Curon for Curon – IDM Film Fund & Commission from South Tyrol (ITALY), Moritzburg Castle for Charlie’s Angels – MDM Film Commission (GERMANY), Pažaislis Church and Monastery Complex for Catherine the Great – Kaunas Film Office (LITHUANIA), Prilep Area for Vrba (Willow) – North Macedonia Film Agency (NORTH MACEDONIA)

One lucky name will be picked among the voters and will win a trip to the winning location.

The European Film Commissions Network is a non-profit association that supports and promotes the European film industry and culture. It currently represents 98 European film commissions and film institutions from 31 different countries.