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“Two Lenses and a Monitor Did Not Survive” | Anna Hints, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood

A woman stands nude in a dark room, her face is covered by a bouquet of aromatic leaves.Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, courtesy of Sundance Institute

Every production faces unexpected obstructions that require creative solutions and conceptual rethinking. What was an unforeseen obstacle, crisis, or simply unpredictable event you had to respond to, and how did this event impact or cause you to rethink your film?

I must say that the Smoke Sauna Sisterhood journey has been a total roller-coster or as we call in Estonian “American hills.” So I am more than delighted that in the end of the journey we end up with the world premiere at Sundance in the middle of real American mountains.

The first big obstacle was that my first producer Eero Talvistu sadly and suddenly passed away. It happened in early 2019. Fortunately I was very lucky to have Marianne Ostrat from Alexandra Film to join forces with me. She has been my biggest supporter in this journey as she believed in me and the film in a very difficult time after the death of producer Eero Talvistu, with whom I developed the project and who had attached our French co-producer Juliette Cazanave. Marianne managed to turn Smoke Sauna Sisterhood into a trilateral co-production between Estonia, France and Iceland, where our co-producer was Hlín Jóhannesdóttir, and encouraged and inspired to dream big. The way we produced this film was pretty magical – living all together in farm house, taking water from a well, washing in a pond. Marianne brought the magic of smoke sauna also to production.

Filming in smoke sauna is a very big challenge in itself and once me along with our cinematographer Ants Tammik experienced poisoning while filming the smoke. Most of the location sounds inside the saunas during principle photography were recorded by Tanel Kadalipp. He together with cinematographer Ants Tammik were true heroes – they had a cooling system to survive the long hours in heat together with their equipment. So we had to do our best so that no one gets hurt and also that technology does not get hurt. Still, two lenses and a monitor did not survive. A smoke sauna session lasts several hours with breaks in between to get fresh air. We had to adjust to that reality and be mindful how everyone is feeling in the heat.

Our challenge was also corona, but luckily as we were filming away from the city in a secluded farm, testing and keeping cautious. Luckily no one got the virus during filming.

The challenges are also stories themselves, delicate issues that women share and how to be mindful with that in the process of filmmaking. As filmmakers our biggest asset is trust and that cannot be violated. So whenever someone felt uncomfortable, we stopped filming. In order to capture the sisterhood on screen, the real sisterhood has to happen with sensitivity and support.

I have created this film in production and post-production based lead by intuition and I think that was a challange. In this journey I did discover that creating based on intuition is indeed possible when you have a team supporting it. I have to mention editors that I have worked with: Qutaiba Barhamji from France, Martin Männik and most of all Tushar Prakash and Hendrik Mägar. They have helped to put the intuition and feeling into the form and structure while keeping the energy that is important to me. There have been many moments when I was dreaming of a sequence at night and next day we would try it out in the editing. It was challenging to select which stories to keep, which not, I would not have been able to decide by myself. When you work with intuition, you need to trust the intuition but also trust the people that you work with. I have been just incredibly lucky and blessed.

In sound and music I have also been incredibly lucky: there was a great challenge how to capture sound and music with people who have never experienced smoke sauna. For that the original score is a creative collaboration between Icelandic composer Eðvarð Egilsson and an experimental folk trio EETER that I am part of together with Marja-Liisa Plats and Ann Reimann. Eðvarð came to Estonia in autumn 2021 to experience a smoke sauna session to better understand the atmosphere, and to get the acoustic feeling and to hear the sound palette. The sound designer for our film is an acclaimed Icelandic sound designer Huldar Freyr Arnarson. Eðvarð worked closely with him and made sure the atmosphere of smoke sauna comes alive also in the sound of film. In the end of that experience we discovered how many similarities there actually are between Iceland and Estonia and discovered each other’s culture in a deep spiritual level. That is the beauty of co-production in filmmaking.

See all responses to our annual Sundance Question here.
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