A transcontinental country located at the boundary of eastern Europe and western Asia, Azerbaijan is a place that combines European, post-Soviet era and Asian influences. Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital and largest city, sits below sea level and at the heart of the territory’s cultural ambitions.
For filmmakers, Baku boasts unique locations and backdrops, from the Heydar Aliyev cultural centre, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, to myriad museums, not least the Baku Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of History of Azerbaijan. In addition, there are numerous architecture styles on offer, ranging from Baku’s old city medieval core to modern futuristic buildings, plus an Olympic-sized sports stadium and sprawling port.
Azerbaijan’s film commission, Filming Azerbaijan, offers a one-stop shop for producers eyeing the country — bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia (Republic of Dagestan) to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia and Turkey to the west, and Iran to the south — as a production base. “Filming Azerbaijan is a semi-governmental body so we can find permission to shoot in any locations that an international producer would need,” says head of international Jamilya Atakishieva, “and it won’t be expensive at all.”
While there is currently no rebate system in place — Atakishieva says a programme is in development — there are various discounts for international productions, including accommodation deals and production services.
Alihan Karagul, FPS Productions owner and executive producer, operates from offices in New York, Istanbul and Azerbaijan, and was line producer for Netflix’s The Gray Man, the Anthony and Joe Russo-directed action thriller starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas, in Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. “Azerbaijan is an interesting and valuable filming destination because of the versatility of its locations, exotic feel and cost-effective filming budgets,” says Karagul. “It has a European feel as well as the post-Soviet vibe in its architecture, and delivers invaluable versatile and diverse locations.”
For The Gray Man, the production brought in crew from Istanbul and staffed up using Azeri crew. “In the last six years we have been operating in Azerbaijan we have managed to assemble a competent, English-speaking crew for servicing high-calibre productions,” says Karagul.
Filming Azerbaijan has its own English-speaking crew for international productions, while studios in the country such as the Baku Media Center and Cinex Azerbaijan also boast English-speaking crews. Other high-profile shoots in the past two years have included Disney+ Hotstar Hindi action-adventure series Aar Ya Paar and an episode of the BBC-produced travel adventure series Race Across The World. Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Arabiya TV produced a travel show in Azerbaijan and Baku also hosted the 2012 Eurovision Song contest.
Azerbaijan continues to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic — 80% of citizens are vaccinated — and there are no restrictions in the country, although incoming filmmakers are required to be vaccinated. Atakishieva says Azerbaijan can accommodate at least three large-scale productions at once. With nine climate zones and four distinct seasons throughout the year, the country boasts 2,200 annual hours of sunshine. “At times Baku can be windy, but we take necessary precautions on such days,” says FPS’ Karagul. And because foreign productions are only recently discovering the beauties and value of Azerbaijan as a filming location, the public is very happy and eager to see film crews shoot in the city, “as opposed to some other countries where people are a bit tired of us filmmakers”.
“It can lead to funny moments during shoots, but as long as you can control it properly, positive vibes and interest are always welcome in our business,” says Karagul.
Azerbaijan is the main location for a major feature film, Ali and Nino,from UK-based production company Archery Pictures, it is based on the book by Kurban Said, about a romance between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl around 1918. It is directed by Asif Kapadia, who won many awards for his documentary, Senna.
There is a limited roster of English‑speaking crews, all found in the capital, Baku. Book early to avoid disappointment.
Azerbaijan boasts a good network of air, rail and sea routes, which connect the country with the rest of the world. Good roads and airports mean every corner of the country can be reached quickly and comfortably.
First person to contact: Ilkin Mahammadli, executive director, Filming Azerbaijan: email@example.com