Estonia’s “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” wins the best documentary at European Film Awards

Anna Hints’ “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”, a documentary about women who come together in the protective darkness of a smoke sauna in southern Estonia, won the best documentary award at the European Film Awards on 9 December in Berlin, Germany.

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” (“Savusanna Sõsarad” in Estonian), a collaboration between the Estonian, French and Icelandic production teams, was up against four other documentaries: “Apolonia, Apolonia” (Denmark, Poland), “Four Daughters” (France, Tunisia, Germany, Saudi Arabia), “On the Adamant” (France, Japan) and “Motherland” (Sweden, Ukraine, Norway).

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” was named the winner by the European Film Academy at a ceremony in Berlin, where the director of the documentary, Anna Hints, thanked the Academy and the audience with an impromptu song instead of a speech.

Inspired by Hints’ roots in southeastern Estonian culture and the profound teachings of her grandmother, who lived in the country’s Võru region, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” is a tribute to the transformative power of the smoke sauna tradition.

“In ‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’, I embarked on a transformative journey to uncover the raw and vulnerable stories that lie within the sacred space of the smoke sauna, where women share their experiences without judgement or shame. The film is an exploration of aesthetics, form and technical approach that seeks to capture the essence of this ancient tradition while fostering a sense of female solidarity and empowerment,” Hints said of the film.

“It is an ode to the sacred space where women have given birth, washed the dead and healed for generations. Through this film, I hope to inspire a collective journey towards vulnerability and self-acceptance, where all voices are heard and valued, and where healing and empowerment flourish in the embrace of sisterhood,” Hints said.

A trailer of “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”.

Estonia’s Oscar nominee

Earlier this year, Hints also won the directing award in the World Cinema Documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival.

In August, the Estonian Film Institute nominated the film for an Oscar in the Best International Feature category at the American Film Academy Awards. According to the Estonian Film Institute’s jury, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” is a film “with a sensitive visual language and a visually arresting style that manages to capture at once the historical and the timeless, the concrete and the universal, the political and the poetic”.

The New York Times recently selected “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” as one of the best films of 2023.

A still from “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”.

The film also highlights the ancient Estonian smokehouse tradition, which has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The 36th European Film Awards, presented by the European Film Academy to honour achievements in European filmmaking, took place on 9 December 2023 at the Arena Berlin.

Read also: Review: “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”

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