Estonian filmmaker Anna Hints wins a directing award at Sundance for “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”

Anna Hints, an Estonian film director, won the directing award in the World Cinema Documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival for “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”; the documentary focuses on women who come together in the protective darkness of the smoke sauna, an important part of the Estonian cultural heritage.

“A transcendental story of women that bring us into their bodies, their traumas and their healing. Tales of patriarchy that we have rarely seen on screen come together with cinematic beauty, humor, wisdom and refreshing self-awareness. The directing award goes to Anna Hints, ‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’,” the film festival’s jury said in a statement.

A co-production between Estonia, France and Iceland, this was the first time a documentary by an Estonian director was selected to the largest independent film festival in the United States.

A screenshot from “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”.

A film about the healing power of communities and sisterhood

“Its original, audacious style, and incredibly moving and intimate approach to the issues of trauma, make this into an unforgettable watch. Now more than ever we need a film about the healing power of communities and sisterhoods,” Ania Trzebiatowska, a documentary programmer of the festival, said of the film.

Anna Hints started making the documentary eight years ago. “The film is born from my south Estonian roots and personal experiences in smoke saunas. In Estonian cultural history, for centuries smoke saunas used to be the places where women gave birth, therefore my film focuses on women who come together in the protective darkness of the smoke sauna, share their deepest secrets and wash off the shame that has accumulated in their bodies,” she said.

“I firmly believe that women need the support of sisterhood to have the courage to face their traumas and regain their power and voice. When there is support from the sisterhood, then no experience is too harsh or too shameful to be shared.”

A screenshot from “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”.

Every woman on the planet can relate

The film’s producer, Marianne Ostrat, added that “the issues and experiences related to womanhood our characters open up about in the smoke sauna are universal”. “Every woman on the planet can relate on some level. Smoke sauna at the same time is a rare phenomenon although one can find similar safe spaces in other indigenous cultures.”

“Through the medium of film, we invite the viewer to experience the South Estonian smoke sauna that is listed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The film is also very cinematic – ‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’ is a theatrical documentary in its best sense, hence we’re happy the festival is taking place in person this year,” Ostrat noted.

Anna Hints is an Estonian film director, scriptwriter and composer with a background in contemporary art, photography and experimental folk music. She has deep roots in the distinct culture of south Estonia, yet for six years her second home has been India. Her debut short fiction “Ice” (2017), which received the “Best Short Film” award at the Estonian Film and TV Awards, has been screened at more than 95 film festivals worldwide.

Anna Hints. Photo by Anna Hints’s Facebook page.

The Sundance Film Festival is an annual film festival organised by the Sundance Institute – a non-profit organisation founded by American actor and filmmaker Robert Redford. It is the largest independent film festival in the US and takes place each January in Park City, Utah; Salt Lake City, Utah; and at the Sundance Resort – and acts as a showcase for new work from American and international independent filmmakers. The 2023 Sundance Film Festival took place from 19 January to 29 January.

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