“Trakų Vokė Mansion is a place, where it is hard to be in a hurry – everything here is reminiscent of slow-motion film”, Director of the Mansion, Ieva Šiušaitė, begins the conversation. A unique architectural monument and the impressively kept garden here, recalls the times of Counts Tyszkiewicz and in the most recent decades attracts not only the tourists but also filmmakers. Trakų Vokė Mansion has already played the role of Stockholm, Saint Petersburg, cities of the United Kingdom and many other places. The mansion interior and exterior were seen by the audiences of films and series like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Catherine the Great, Blood in the Snow around the globe. With I. Šiušaitė we discuss the biggest film projects, mansion quotidian life and positive attitude towards filmmaking.
– Let‘s begin our conversation with – what attracts people to Trakų Vokė, what can be found and done at the mansion?
– I like saying to Vilniusians that they are the owners of Trakų Vokė Mansion. It is a place for events, a part of the city’s cultural life. Truth to be told, the name often confuses – people think of Trakai or Užutrakis, but we are in Vilnius. Our expositions, concerts, other events are in one way, or another related to the life of the capital or the history of the mansion. I like saying, that it is a place of slower life, where one wants to spend time, relax. Even the guests sometimes say that they do not wish to make noise here.
After relocating here from the city, it seemed to me that life in Trakų Vokė moves like in a slow-motion film. Now I have begun enjoying it – time moves differently here. The Mansion has its own aura, it seems that everything here happens slowly, elegantly.
– Maybe that is the reason it attracts the filmmakers? What period films are made here?
– Trakų Vokė mansion is not just a beautiful sight, but also a cinematographic location, suitable for implementing various directors‘ ideas. This is exactly why this place is chosen by the filming teams. In Trakų Vokė Mansion films and series like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Catherine the Great, Blood in the Snow, Hilma and numerous others were filmed. The mansion has already played Saint Petersburg, Stockholm, Kaunas, cities of the United Kingdom in various periods, from the second half of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century. Still, we look the most like the end of the 18th century – beginning of 19th century East European mansions. The Mansion is filmed when mansion atmosphere or roomy apartments, public spaces are needed. Decorators can change the spaces almost unrecognisably, for example by covering the windows they make it look like it is the dark Middle Ages within the manor.
– Probably the slow, peaceful life of the mansion is strongly changed when filming begins here?
– Absolutely. During the big projects the environs of the mansion are very changed: trailers with directors’, actors’ and make-up artists’ rooms are parked, a whole town with food tents is sets up in the manor’s farmyard, actors in costumes walk around. In the past when such projects like War and Peace, Catherine the Great, were filmed fences were built, even enclosures and roads were constructed – many things could be changed in the mansion, today, due to the current environment of the mansion, it would probably no longer be possible to do that.
Probably the most impressive project completed in the mansion was Catherine the Great (HBO, Sky TV), which was filmed with interruptions for 5 months. There were many changes – our office moved to another building, it was agreed with the staff, that they will not release any information, follow confidentiality rules, will not take pictures and will not tell anything about the decorations. In such instances we are the guests, and we hand over the mansion to the creators one hundred percent.
It’s interesting that during filming you get to see how many people work with that project. Sometimes in a film only two actors may be seen, but for them to appear, a team of 100 filmmakers has to work – then you start seeing films very differently.
– Is the mansion changed a lot during filming – is there a lot of freedom when changing interior details, décor for the filmmakers?
– We still haven’t restored the interior of the mansion and our halls are usually empty, therefore filming crews have quite a lot of freedom, they can hang up curtains and bring in props, transform the spaces into the period needed for them. Of course, there are certain rules in place in the mansion – for example, there is no drilling or other damaging of heritage objects allowed, we request that content should be kept free of obscenity out of respect for the object. Therefore, the filmmakers consult about where they will hang what, and the preparation itself takes 4 to 5 times longer than the filming.
When we see the decorations for filming being built, we always guess with the other colleagues whether we will recognise the mansion on screen. Later we take pictures and discuss whether it still looks similar to our halls. Thanks to the decorations a completely different appearance is created. The are many props that remain in our mansion that were left over from filming. Not to mislead the visitors we inform them that those are the things that were used during filming and are not real historical heritage.
– How do local residents react to filming?
– Some experience discomfort due to closed or blocked roads, but those are temporary emotions, because in general people look at film projects positively. They are proud that we are chosen, that the mansion will be shown on such platforms like Netflix or BBC. We noticed that the residents evaluate the discomforts which occur due to filming far more positively than due to other events. We have some funny examples as well, for example, one woman who lives nearby always participates in filming and we often see her with historical costumes. A great share of the residents of Trakų Vokė also are filmed in the mass scenes.
Of course, residents are always warned if Nazi or Soviet paraphernalia banned in the country are used during filming, or if people walk around with fake rifles – such filming is always viewed with sensitivity.
On the other hand, everyone understands that filming is a significant part of the mansion’s finances, which provides up to 50 percent of the mansion’s income. Film industry – are our important clients, which assist in the renewal of the mansion and restoration work.