A pop-up sauna will pitch up outside a cinema in celebration of an award-winning documentary.

People will have the chance to try the sauna outside Lewes Depot Cinema this Thursday before the screening of Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.

The first documentary by an Estonian director to compete and win at Sundance, the documentary is Estonia’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the 2024 Oscars and is one of five nominees for the 2024 LUX European Audience Film Award.

Hints’ debut feature, which shows women “as they are”, explores issues of trauma, healing, and community.

The documentary shows in the darkness of the smoke sauna, a group of women tending to each other’s bodies as they share their innermost secrets and experiences about body image, family and social expectations, illness, sex, sexuality, childbirth and violence.

The wood-fired smoke sauna tradition of the Vana-Võromaa in Southeast Estonia is part of the UNESCO List of The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The ritual is a way of life to the men, women and children of the region.

“The smoke sauna is a place where women used to give birth, wash the dead and heal,” said Hints.

“My Võro granny, who was like a mother to me, passed on the heritage, chants and knowledge and also the transforming power of smoke sauna culture.


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“Since childhood I knew that on this earth there is a place where all our emotions and experiences can be shared without judgement or shame. In the protective darkness of the smoke sauna everything can come out.

“No experience is too harsh or too embarrassing, every voice has the right to express themselves.

“My own deep experience with smoke sauna comes from the time I was 11. My grandfather had died, his body was in the farmhouse and I along with my granny, aunt and niece went to the smoke sauna a day before the funeral. It was there that my grandmother shared with us for the first and the last time the truth that my grandfather had cheated on her.

“Granny let the hurt and anger out, made peace with grandfather and the next day she could bury him in peace. It was then when I realised that a smoke sauna is not just for cleaning the body, but also the soul.

“I hope the time in a dark cinema gives the audience an experience as if they are also part of the Smoke Sauna Sisterhood and experience this kind of safe space to be vulnerable. This need to really connect with each other goes beyond genders and cultures.”

The film premiered at Sundance 2023 and was the winner of the Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary. It had its UK premiere at Sheffield DocFest and has also played in festivals around the world including in competition at CPH:DOX, Hong Kong Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and Seattle Film Festival.