Tallinn mayor still open to Laaga Road filming closure, on city terms

Tallinn Mayor (and Tae Kwon Do blackbelt) Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre).
Tallinn Mayor (and Tae Kwon Do blackbelt) Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre) said that closing Laagna Road in Tallinn for up to a month, in order to allow filming on a major Hollywood movie, was not a given, and required further discussion on the city government's terms. If the latter were met, he was not opposed to part-closure for the filming.

U.S. film moguls Warner Bros. Announced last month they were coming to Tallinn to film part of a Christopher Nolan-directed spy thriller, called Tenet. The project features several major stars, including John David Washington (Malcolm X, BlacKkKlansman), and  Robert Pattinson (the Twilight series of movies), as well as veteran British actors Michael Caine and Kenneth Branagh.

However, the announcement that the producers wanted to close a lengthy section of the road, a major arterial route between central Tallinn and the densely-populated Lasnamäe district in the east of the city, was met with some consternation, due to the disruption it would cause.

Kõlvart himself had already expressed his reservations on the closure, noting some compromise would likely be needed, according to ERR's online Estonian news.

At a press conference Wednesday, Kõlvart noted that the timing (July) was particularly awkward, as the quinquennial Estonian Song Festival takes place that month. The Song Festival Grounds are close to the stretch of Laagna Road which Warner Bros. reportedly had their eye on – a limestone cutting constructed when the road was built and locally known as the "Lasnamäe channel".

Kõlvart added that a full road closure would only be possible at weekends (aside from that of the song festival), with the road fully open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and open in one direction at peak hours during the rest of the week (i.e. towards the center in the morning and towards Lasnamäe in the evenings).

Only by fulfilling these conditions will filming on the stretch of highway, which is made up of several lanes in each direction, be possible.

The mayor also noted that any closure would not be as much of a money-spinner for the city as might be thought.

Concerns about Tallinn's image in the movie

"The maximum that the city can legally claim in road closure fees would be between €50,000 and €70,000, depending on the schedule," he said.

"From what I can see, such an event could happen – not only is it a great honor and opportunity for us, but also gives the chance for Tallinn residents to contribute to the movie (adverts for extras in the movie have already appeared on social media-ed.). We would with pleasure take a look at the cultural program which the project managers are offering, under under these conditions [noted above] we could talk about it," Kõlvart said.

The mayor also noted that the image of Tallinn the movie is likely to project is not yet clear.

"The city of Tallinn realizes that such a project would generate income for the state, but the image would also need to have a positive impact. interestingly, nobody has asked what light Tallinn will appear in in the movie. If you consider the poor condition of Laagna tee and the Linnahall; the filmmaking is not taking place in the Old Town," he said.

At the same time, Kõlvart left the door very much open to the possibility of the road closure, noting the boon for tourism the movie is likely to bring, though restated his reservations about Laagna Road.

"We have discussd this with our transport authority colleagues several times. As of now, we have stated the city's conditions, and I do not see any alternatives to closing Laagna Road other than under those conditions," he said.

A response from Warner Bros. has not been reported as yet.

The proposed movie would be the highest-profile ever to have been filmed in Tallinn or Estonia, certainly since independence. The 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky sci-fi classic Stalker is perhaps the most well-known movie featuring the city, or rather its environs, so far. It was principally filmed at two abandoned hydro power plants on the Jägala river, near Tallinn.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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