“It is vital for every filmmaker to trust their gut feeling.” Anna Hints – In interview
Anna Hints hails from southern Estonia where the smoke sauna is ingrained in the culture and
also a Unesco protected cultural heritage. When she was 11 years old Anna remembers an
event that later inspired her to make Sisterhood. Her grandfather had just passed away, Anna,
her grandmother and other close female relatives had a smoke sauna session where her
grandmother confessed for the first time that the grandfather had been unfaithful to her and
even moved in with another woman for a period of time. Her grandmother got all her anger out
in that sauna session and was afterwards ready to part with her husband in peace.
Anna feels that it is vital for every filmmaker to trust their gut feeling. Being raised with folklore
and spirits of her ancestors being a part of her daily life, she is in tune with her spiritual side.
Many ideas come to her in dreams, whether it be an idea for a project or how to edit a scene,
she trusts her subconscious to guide her in her work. “I think that my upbringing and the culture
I inherited from where I grew up has a lot to do with how I perceive the world. I remember, for
example, my granny setting the table for dinner and also inviting dead ancestors.”
When she was younger, Anna struggled with wanting to keep on living. She has always had a
strong urge to use her time to give back to the world, and the earth. She talks about if she
weren’t a director she has considered working as a psychologist or on environmental protection.
Then of course she could not exist without singing, as she is the lead singer and composer for
the electronic and folk music fusion band EETER. Their music along with compositions from
Icelandic musician Edvard Egilsson make up the soundtrack for Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.
“I went to study photography before filmmaking because I felt that I needed to learn visual
language, understanding one frame at a time before I could be the director of a team.”
There was a point many years ago where Anna imagined what she would regret not having
done if she were on her death bed. Not following her dream of becoming a filmmaker was the
answer, and so she enrolled in film school at 28 years old, then already a mother. “Nobody had
questions about my portfolio; they loved it. But they had questions about me being a mother,
they asked; ‘but how will you manage?’. They would not have asked this of a father.”.
She remembers that the image of a director presented to students was a very male centered
one, and female representation was little to none. Anna has studied folklore and literature. She
works better with strong images and soundscape in her creative process, rather than words.
Anna tells her own story of experiencing sexual violence and near death experience in her teens
in Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. Making it has been a healing journey for her and a way to connect
with other women. The film was in production for seven years but the message has stayed
relevant, and more so now than ever in relation to political changes in Estonia. There is
currently a growing following behind conservative political parties that spread an idea of
traditional gender roles over freedom. However Smoke Sauna Sisterhood with its message is
currently sitting on the top of the Estonian box office. Critics claim that never before has there
been such an honest film made on the country’s culture and history.
“I learned from my photography teacher that there is no such thing as objective neutrality in
taking pictures. This is, I think, a common misconception with documentaries as well. The
filmmaker is never impartial to the subject they present.”
The Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, the group presented in the film, is made up of women that Anna
met during her seven year preparation for filming. Some she met during her own smoke sauna
sessions, and others got news of her project. Kadi Kivilo, a so-called sauna keeper, acts as a
main character in the film and initiates many of the conversations. Kadi and Anna share a
similar difficult history with their mothers and Kadi was more than willing to participate to begin
her own healing journey.
While on set in the smoke sauna a woman arrived whom Anna had not met before. This woman
asked if she could join them. Anna got the right vibrations from this woman and welcomed her
Thick, slow drifting smoke hangs in the air, illuminated by a single window. Anna’s goal was to
make the audience feel as if they are physically a part of the smoke sauna experience. Later we
see a picture of a deceased husband projected onto smoke with the forest in the background.
Filming in an actual smoke sauna was in no way easy, as the technical equipment had to be
adjusted to the heat and moisture. For example they had different sets of lenses for filming
inside and outside the sauna. Not different models, but the indoor lenses had to be prepared
and heated up along with the sauna, which on the whole takes 6 hours. The lens was kept on
the floor for the first two hours, then sat on the first bench for another two, and then brought
higher and higher in the room until max heat had been reached. The DOP had to wear a cold
wet shirt and gloves during indoor filming to avoid burns from the metal casing of the camera.
During editing Anna again followed her intuition on which stories worked best, as they filmed
many more than could be shown in the film. There are plans to make a second project from all
the extra material that was shot, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
Hlín Jóhannesdóttir and Marianne Ostrat were producers on Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. Anna is
especially grateful for Marianne who was an on set producer and made everything the film
needed possible. Hlín and Marianne both worked on the production of Driving Mum, Hilmar
Oddsson’s new feature.
Anna has received numerous personal messages from women in her country that say that the
film has served as an eye opener and comfort for their own lives. She remembers a woman in
her 60s who wishes she had seen the film 40 years earlier and is going to show it to her
daughter. Another middle aged woman contacted Anna with a story of how she has had a
negative body image her whole life, but after seeing Sisterhood made an appointment with a
photographer for a nude session for her first step into accepting her body. Anna hopes she can
find the time to answer every message she receives.
– Written by Katla Gunnlaugsdóttir