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Estonia's 'Smoke Sauna Sisterhood' wins best doc at European Film Awards

"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" director Anna Hints at the European Film Awards (EFAs) in Berlin on Saturday. December 9, 2023. Source: ACE/Scanpix

The 36th European Film Awards (EFAs) were held in Berlin Saturday, where Estonian film "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood," written and directed by Anna Hints, won best documentary.

Taking the stage to accept the award, Hints said that instead of giving an acceptance speech, she was going to sing.

"And I'm not gonna do it alone, because you never make [films] alone [either] – together, only together," she said, before encouraging the audience to join her team in a call-and-response runosong in Võro and English.

"As a filmmaker, my curatorial vision was centered around creating a safe and inclusive space for women to share their stories," Hints said in a director's statement shared on the EFA website. "In doing so, I wanted to challenge the traditional norms of society, where topics like sexual assault and terminal illness are often silenced or relegated to the shadows. By shedding light on these issues, I sought to break down barriers and encourage open conversations."

The impact of the documentary on the communities represented in the film has been profound, she acknowledged.

"Viewers have connected emotionally with the stories, finding solidarity and empowerment in the shared experiences of these brave women," the director said. "The film has become a catalyst for dialogue and healing, encouraging a broader conversation about the need for safe spaces and compassion in society."

Anna Hints' "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" ("Savvusanna sõsarad"). Source: Press photos

Hints said that "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" is a "tribute to the transformative power of the smoke sauna tradition," inspired by her own Võro and Seto roots and the profound teachings of her Võro grandmother. "It is an ode to the sacred space where women have given birth, washed the dead and healed for generations."

Year full of awards, nominations

This January saw the world premiere of "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" at the Sundance Film Festival, where Anna Hints won best director in the World Cinema Documentary category.

Since then, the Estonian documentary has been screened and nominated for various awards at film festivals around the world, from Copenhagen to Hong Kong, and won outstanding female-led feature film at the Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival in Canada and best documentary feature at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" is Estonia's pick for 2024 Oscars, and up for consideration as both an international film and a documentary.

The 15-film shortlists for the 96th Academy Awards will be announced on December 21.

Anna Hints' "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" ("Savvusanna sõsarad"). Source: Press photos

The European Film Academy has also named "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" one of five nominees for the 2024 LUX Audience Awards, all of which will be subtitled in all 24 EU languages in order to be accessible to the widest audience possible and screened in movie theaters across Europe.

The winner of the LUX Audience Award, to be determined by the general public and MEPs at a weight of 50:50, will be announced in March 2024.

Watch the full trailer for the film below.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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