The first documentary by an Estonian director to compete and win at the Sundance Film Festival, Anna Hints’ SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD is a deeply moving, intimate and breathtaking approach to issues of trauma, healing, and community. Filmed almost as if a Vermeer or Rembrandt painting, the camera is never intrusive, never mechanical. Rather, the images move as the smoke – lingering, wafting, suspended briefly before disappearing and reappearing. With an authentic voice and authority born of their own heritage, inspired by her South-East Estonian culture of Võromaa and Setomaa, and the profound teachings of her Võro granny, filmmaker Anna Hints has created a transformative experience of being human within a female body, showing women “as they are” with great emotional veracity and deep empathy. In the darkness of a smoke sauna, women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences, washing off the shame trapped in their bodies and regaining their strength through a sense of communion. Women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences inside an Estonian smoke sauna. Cleansing their bodies and baring their souls, they embrace the healing power of sisterhood. Anna Hints’ Sundance-winning documentary celebrates the centuries-old smoke sauna tradition, recognized on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The impact of SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD on the communities represented in the film has been profound. Viewers have connected emotionally with the stories, finding solidarity and empowerment in the shared experiences of these brave women. Director Anna Hints joins us for a conversation on what brought her to documenting this sacred space where women give birth, wash the dead, and express their vulnerability, found self-acceptance, and a collective empowerment for generations to come..
About the filmmaker – Anna Hints is an Estonian film director with a background in contemporary art and experimental folk music. Having deep roots in the distinct culture of South Estonia, Anna’s second home is in India. As an active dumpster diver, Anna’s short documentary For Tomorrow Paradise Arrives (2021) initiated public discussion and growth of new grassroot movements against food waste in Estonia. Anna’s first feature documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood premiered at Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Documentary Competition program in January 2023 with Anna winning the Directing Award. After that the film won McBaine Feature Documentary Award at San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Awards, Eurimages Audentia Award for the Best Female Director, two more awards and got nominated for LUX – The European Audience Film Award by European Parliament and European Film Academy. Anna’s upcoming short fiction Weight of Light (2024) depicts the life of female rag pickers in Delhi. Anna is a singer in the electronic-folk trio EETER that was nominated in the Best Film Music category at the Estonian Film and TV Awards 2018. EETER collaborated with Icelandic composer Edvard Egilsson for the original score of Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. Anna is currently pursuing a Masters Degree at the Department of Drama of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre.
“It’s an intense watch; at times infectiously hilarious, at others wrenchingly sad. For the film’s brief running time, there’s an emotional osmosis at play, in both sauna and cinema alike.” – Wendy Ide, Observer (UK)
“This is a film that weaves a spell, the camera resting often not on the woman talking but on the person listening to her, thereby creating the impression of a universal experience of women.” – Cath Clarke, Guardian
“Hypnotic, intimate and blisteringly honest. No topic is off limits to [the film’s] spiritual sisters as they sweat to cleanse their souls and bodies while also purifying the essence of their viewers.” – Tomris Laffly, Harper’s Bazaar
“A tidal wave of emotion that builds and builds into a crashing catharsis. While most documentaries thrive on the strength of their story, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is powerful simply because it accords a group of women the space to tell theirs.” – Gayle Sequeira, Film Companion