Innovative Tourism Promo Film Uses Local Street Gymnasts to Show off their City
Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is a quirky, beautiful and charming city with a population (half a million) rivaling that of well-known capitals like Copenhagen and Oslo. Yet despite its stature, and the fact that UNESCO long ago granted World Heritage status to Vilnius’s old town as the largest Baroque historic quarter in Europe, the chances are that most people around the world have not even heard of Vilnius.
Cities come in many shapes and sizes, and one thing they all share is the desire to raise their international profile and attract visitors, investment and attention. Toward this end, cities hire place-oriented branding and creative agencies like Thrilling Cities Ltd., based in London and Shanghai.
“Short, shareable films are one of the most effective place branding tools around,” says Thrilling Cities co-founder and urban explorer JT Singh, who previously co-directed 2013’s time-lapse stunner This is Shanghai, which became the most-watched official tourism video of all time.
“We are always looking for original ways to showcase our clients,” adds place branding expert Jeremy Hildreth, Thrilling Cities’ other co-founder. “Vilnius has always made a strong impression on me. There’s this weird logic to the city – this mingling of art and life. It’s hard to put into words, but we wanted to find a way to express it, to get the message out. Well, it turns out that Vilnius is home to some champion street gymnasts who call themselves Project Mayhem. So we thought: hey, let’s film these guys doing their incredible moves and we’ll feature their hometown, which is so charming and bohemian, as a backdrop. Basically, we piggybacked a tourism promo onto a film that’s ostensibly about something else.”
Singh continues: “But it’s not enough for the city to look good; it has to be presented evocatively. The trick is to make the backdrops distinctive enough that people are like, ‘Whoa, which city is this? Where was this filmed again?’. In the case of Vilnius, we came across a lot of ingenious street art, which we depicted in the film. Literally one the most famous street artists in the world, Ernest Zacharevic, is from Vilnius. It’s an authentic urban theme there.”
Vilnius mayor Arturas Zuokas commissioned Thrilling Cities to make the film after being presented with the idea. “The mayor understood immediately what we were trying to do and so he said yes to us, and within a week JT flew to Vilnius from Shanghai with [sports cinematographer] Charles Lanceplaine and we got to work filming. We had only five days to shoot, and the weather wasn’t on our side.”
Denis Tomkutonis, one of the street gymnasts starring in the film, says despite the cold and rain (filming took place in October 2013) it was a thrilling experience. “We had a letter from the city’s film office explaining what we were doing, which was lucky because we got stopped by the police a couple of times. I mean, we got to climb all over our city in ways we ‘d normally get arrested for doing. It was fantastic.”
Vilnius Tourism: vilnius-tourism.lt/en
Project Mayhem: facebook.com/gatvesgimnastika.lt