Hot Docs 2023: Qs à la mode with… Anna Hints (Smoke Sauna Sisterhood)

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Director Anna Hints explores how women tap into the cathartic, healing powers of traditional Estonian smoke saunas In Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. We posed our Qs à la mode to Anna, and here’s what she shared!

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Intimate, immersive, visceral.

I decided to make this film because: My roots are in South Estonia, in the specific culture of Võromaa where the tradition of smoke sauna is still very much alive and part of UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. My own deep experience with smoke sauna comes from the time I was 11. My grandfather had died, his body was in the farmhouse and I along with my granny, aunt and niece went to the smoke sauna a day before the funeral. It was there that my grandmother shared with us for the first and the last time the truth: that my grandfather had cheated on her. Granny let the hurt and anger out, made peace with my grandfather and, the next day, she could bury him in peace. It was then when I realised that a smoke sauna is not just for cleaning the body, but also the soul. No experience is too shameful or sad to be held back, [and] by giving voice to all your emotions and experiences, you gain back your power and heal. I wanted to give this experience and encouragement to the audience.

The thing that surprised me most about my films subject/topic was: That once you go to sauna with women, then [I realized that] absolutely all of us have experienced some sort of abuse or harassment. That surprised me deeply. I realized that these stories are so universal, there is such a collective experience of mistreatment towards women by patriarchal mindsets. Important here is to say that patriarchal thinking goes beyond genders — lot of mothers carry the same hurtful mindset on to their daughters.

The most challenging part of making my film was: The sudden and unexpected death of Eero Talvistu, my first producer. It was really tragic and difficult time. Fortunately, Marianne Ostrat came and took up the challenge as she fully believed in me and the film.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: A smoke sauna seems like a horrible place to shoot with actual gear: it’s hot, humid, dark. Cinematographer Ants Tammik had ice bags around the camera, and gloves and a wet shirt on so that the camera would not burn the body. We had one lens outside and one inside, because they wouldn’t tolerate the extreme temperature difference.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice Id like to share with aspiring documentarians is: I encourage people to be transparent in their filmmaking. I also involved the women [in the film] in the editing process. You have to be as vulnerable as your subjects. I was very honest and transparent from the start, telling them what kind of level of honesty I am after and what kind of film we are making. I did not persuade anyone. Everyone who participated wanted their stories to be heard.

Want to check out Anna’s film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!


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