Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’s Sundance win couldn’t have been better timed for Estonia
The documentary follows women in south Estonia who bond through the smoke sauna tradition.
2023 is officially the ‘Year of the Sauna’ in Estonia, which involves year-round events organised by the Estonian Rural Tourism Organization and its partners to celebrate and help preserve Estonian sauna culture. Part of the aim is to encourage more sauna tourism around the world — as, at present, the vast majority of visitors don’t leave Tallinn — and help more people understand and enjoy our UNECO-listed smoke sauna tradition.
One of the highlights of the year will be the return of the European Sauna Marathon following a 2 year pandemic break. It will be bigger and better than ever before, now spread out across two regions of south Estonia over two days. Visitors and journalists from around the world have already booked their trips.
2023 is the Year of the Sauna in Estonia — and the European Sauna Marathon is back
The XII European Sauna Marathon will take place over two days in Otepää & Tõrva.
The year has started with an incredible boost to the understanding of Estonian sauna culture. On the opposite side of Europe, a new Estonian documentary called ‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’ just opened to glowing reviews at the Sundance Film Festival where director where director Anna Hints picked up a prestigious best directing award.
The feature-length documentary is filmed at a smoke sauna in the wilderness of south Estonia and follows a group of women who bare all to each other about their lives and challenges through the tradition of the steam. It includes deeply intense discussions on womenhood and trauma, providing much needed understanding of topics too often treated as taboo.
One review described it as the best documentary of the year.
“This tradition, remarkably captured by director Anna Hints, is certainly one of the breakout films,” wrote the Hindustan Times. “These stories become our stories, effortlessly culminating into a deeply spiritual quest for resilience and reclamation of one’s own power. Anna Hints has created an astonishingly important work. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is a cathartic experience that will remain with you for quite some time. Its a knockout.”
Filming the documentary almost entirely in a sauna was not easy with the sweat of crew members constantly dripping onto the cameras.
Director of Photography Ants Tammik revealed in an interview that they had to use special equipment and all crew members needed to have a high fitness. Even then, some of their equipment didn’t survive to the end and Tammik himself lost consciousness at one point.
We hope the movie encourages far more people to more deeply understand both Estonian sauna culture and, for men, the challenges of women in society in this empowering film. We will provide further updates about how more people can watch Smoke Sauna Sisterhood when it is more widely released.
Anna Hints is also a supporter of the Saunas For Ukraine initiative to provide frontline mobile sauna and laundry units to Ukrainian defenders. We hope to be involved in charity screenings to help raise more funds for this much needed project.