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'Smoke Sauna Sisterhood' ties for EDA Awards' 2023 best doc feature

"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" producer Marianne Ostrat (left) and director Anna Hints (right) at the DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute luncheon in New York. November 2023. Source: Press photo

Anna Hints' "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" earned the latest in its series of accolades last week when the Estonian documentary tied Matthew Heineman's "American Symphony" for Best Documentary Feature at the New York-based Alliance of Women Film Journalists' (AWFJ) 2023 EDA Awards.

"Women's voices play a crucial role in 'Smoke Sauna Sisterhood,' which is why I'm so glad that women film critics so powerfully acknowledge our film," Hints said according to a press release, dedicating the newly won award precisely to women's voices – that they be more robustly represented than before across various parts of the film industry, including in film criticism, on festival juries and in film industry policy.

"Unfortunately, women still remain oppressed in many parts of the world," Hints continued. "That has to change, and I believe that the world will become a more caring place when we let women's voices be heard alongside men's with equal respect."

According to producer Marianne Ostrat, this international accolade awarded by women film journalists reaffirms that "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" has found its support base in the U.S. and is highly valued within its target group.

"It is a great honor to win this award in competition with four very strong documentaries, all of which are considered likely soon-to-be Oscar nominees, and it is a pleasure to share the award with 'American Symphony,'" Ostrat said.

Named in honor of Eda Reiss Merin, a stage, film and TV actress with a career spanning more than 60 years, a founding member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and longstanding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the AWFJ's EDA Awards recognize the amazing work done by and about women – both in front of and behind the camera, the organization said on its homepage.

"In preparation for the awards season, AWFJ tracks femme-helmed and femme-centric films released throughout the year," the alliance writes. "The 2023 list of EDA Award-eligible femme-helmed and/or femme-centric films includes almost 500 titles. Many of these female-made movies are small budget productions that receive neither wide distribution nor critical consideration. This staggering number of independently produced films indicates the high level of female filmmaker proactivity in contradiction to the grim statistics consistently reported in major studies about female film production. AWFJ advocates for acknowledgment of these films and recognition for their filmmakers."

Click here for a full list of the winners of the 2023 EDA Awards.

'Sisterhood' list of nods still growing

"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" saw its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where 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.

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

Last month, "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" won best documentary at the 36th European Film Awards (EFAs) in Berlin on December 9.

While it failed to earn a nod for this year's Oscars, where it was up for consideration in both the international feature film and documentary feature categories, the documentary nonetheless went on that month to pick up a Producers Guild of America (PGA) Award nomination – a first for an Estonian film – for outstanding producer of a documentary motion picture.

"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" writer and director Anna Hints (left) greeted by a crowd upon arrival at Tallinn Airport following the documentary's EFA win in Berlin. December 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The European Film Academy also named "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" one of five nominees for the 2024 LUX Audience Awards last year, all of which will be subtitled in all 24 EU languages and screened in 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.

Four nominations in New York

"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" will be screened at theaters and festivals in 11 American cities this month. In Europe, it continues to be screened in several cities in Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Finland, in addition to individual screenings in the U.K., and is slated to hit theaters in Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Italy and Slovakia this month and Portugal, Hungary and Sweden next month.

Distribution rights to the award-winning Estonian documentary have already been sold in more than 32 countries, from the U.S. to South Korea and New Zealand.

This week, Hints, Ostrat and cinematographer Ants Tammik are in New York, where "Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" is up for four awards in the 2024 Cinema Eye Honors: outstanding achievement in debut film, outstanding achievement in direction, outstanding achievement in sound design and the Audience Choice Prize.

The annual awards ceremony will be held and winners announced this Friday, January 12.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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