HotDocs ’23: Smoke Sauna Sisterhood

In Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, director Anna Hints dives deep into our need for connection. A group of women in Estonia, within the protective walls of a smoke sauna, share their most vulnerable experiences and support each other in doing so. This experience, for me, was reminiscent of being at the hairdresser’s, listening to other women share what was going on in their lives and give advice or encouragement. However, this cranks that up because the women in the sauna are also physically bare, making the sauna into a place where shame truly goes out the window.

I find it interesting that places where we care for the body: spas, hair salons, barbershops, nail salons etc, also function as therapeutic places. I’m not really sure what the reason for this is, other than that fact that we’re in a room with people for an extended period of time. But, when I asked this to Hints, she told me about an Estonian belief that the body and soul are connected. For example, if a person takes hold of your hand, they are also touching your soul. Perhaps it’s because giving someone access to you physically knocks down one wall emotionally and brings people closer together.

Hints describes the sauna as a place to not only cleanse the body, but the soul as weights are lifted when we share our secrets or traumas with others. It’s intriguing to me that the soul isn’t cleansed just by speaking said secrets or traumas out loud. (If that were the case, we could just say them to ourselves and be okay.) The ‘cleansing’ seems to come from having another person there to hear it, emphasising how sharing our experiences is beneficial to our well-being. It’s a charge to not be afraid of vulnerability, and a call for us to create safe spaces where that vulnerability can happen.

I frequently say that vulnerability makes me feel ‘ugh,’ which, I guess when translated into normal speak, means that I don’t enjoy it and find it physically difficult. So, I always appreciate it when people around me create those safe spaces- spaces where they’re really listening and there is no fear of condemnation, where you can tell they really care about your well-being.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is now playing at HotDocs ’23. For more information, click here.

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