An Estonian-made and co-produced documentary which has already been making waves with critics and the public has been submitted for the nomination shortlist in two categories at next year's Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars.
"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood", in Estonian "Savvusanna sõsarad", is a movie which follows a group of women who congregate amid the apparent protective smokescreen of a traditional Võro sauna, aiming to share their deepest secrets as well as to cleanse themselves of both real and figurative grime.
Director Anna Hints said she was: "Deeply moved, and grateful, that our dear colleagues from the Estonian film world see such great potential in 'Smoke Sauna Sisterhood'."
"I have taken 'Smoke Sauna Sisterhood' on a world tour and have seen with my own eyes how the movie speaks to and touches audiences in Europe, Hong Kong, Canada, the U.S. and Australia," Hints went on.
"I can only hope that the Academy will be similarly touched by our smoke saunas' power," she added.
Producer Marianne Ostrat was similarly delighted, saying: "This is a great honor. Documentaries which have premiered or won at Sundance [Festival] end up as Academy Award nominees almost every year, hence why we've got ready for a journey into the spirit of the Oscars."
"We're not going to the Oscars to just to try our luck with 'Smoke Sauna Sisterhood," but to realize its full potential - and in two categories at that," she added.
The Estonian Film Institute (EFI) picked the movie as a candidate for the best international film category at next year's Oscars, held in March 2024.
The movie is due to open in cinemas in the U.S. from autumn onward, which will also allow it to be nominated for the best documentary award category.
Viola Salu, head of EFI's production department, said the movie received more international attention than most Estonian offerings, in recent times.
That the film is also a documentary was significant, she added.
The EFI committee called the movie "visually enchanting" and sensitive, in addition to simultaneously encapsulating the temporary and timeless, the political and the poetic, and other seemingly polar opposites.
The movie has already been screened at more than 20 festivals and bagged four awards, including Hints' World Cinema Documentary Best Director Award Anna at the Sundance Film Festival early on this year.
Distribution rights have been sold to more than 30 countries, while around 27,000 moviegoers in Estonia have already been to see the film.
This week alone it is being screened in Tallinn (Sõpruse Kino), Tartu (Elektriteater), the RuhnuRahu festival and also the Vana-Kuberi farm-cinema in Jõgeva County.
Smoke saunas have been included in UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and are native to Võromaa in South Estonia – the movie also showcases the smoke sauna itself, to international audiences.
The movie is a co-production involving Alexandra Film (Estonia), Kepler22 Productions (France) and Ursus Parvus (Iceland).
In addition to director Hints and producer Ostrat, cinematography was by Ants Tammik, while the soundtrack was composed by Edvard Egilsson (Iceland) and performed by the band Eeter.
Co-producers are Juliette Cazanave (France) and Hlín Jóhannesdóttir (Iceland).
Greenwich Entertainment holds distribution rights in the U.S.
The EFI selection committee was made up of, in addition to Viola Salu, critic Andrei Liimets, producer Johanna Maria Paulson, chairman of Kultuurikapital's audiovisual arts endowment fund Kaarel Kuurmaa, director and editor Madli Lääne-Metsalu, and directors Marko Raat and Ove Musting.
Past Estonian offerings for the Oscars include 2019's "Tõde ja õigus" ("Truth and Justice"), though this did not make the final cut.
Oscars night is March 10, 2024, with nominations to be made January 23.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kerttu Kaldoja
Source: ERR Kultuur