HONEYLAND is a breathtaking piece of filmmaking. Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, along with cinematographer Samir Ljuma, spent three years collecting over 400 hours of footage for this highly lauded documentary. They were commissioned by The Nature Conservation Project in Macedonia and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation to create an environmental video, and while doing so came across Hatidze, a wild beekeeper.
This is a very important story on so many levels. Besides caring for her bees, which Hatidze does with unimaginable diligence and love, she also has devoted her life to caring for her blind and paralyzed mother, Nazife --- and her faithful dog.
They live in a small hut in Ian, the mountainous area of Macedonia that is almost not of this world. It’s desolate, with no modern conveniences AT ALL. It’s as if Hatidze and Nazife are living in a far distant century, except they’re really only 20 km away from the nearest city where Hatidze goes to sell her honey.
During the time Stefanov and Kotevska were filming, the nomadic Hussein family --- mother, father and seven children --- moved their tiny camper next to Hatidze. They also had a small herd of cattle, along with goats, chickens, etc. They become very interested in keeping bees and at first Hatidze is helpful. But eventually their greed overcomes the need to protect the bees --- and then their bees begin killing Hatidze’s bees.
Hussein’s disregard for the ecological necessity of proper beekeeping cost him and Hatidze their livelihood. Hatidze and her forefathers for many generations preserved the method of only taking half the honey at a time. During the winter, when obviously there is no pollen, Hatidze makes sure the bees have their own honey for survival. Hussein refuses to follow her advice, taking all the honey and not leaving anything for the bees, thus creating a crisis for Hatidze.
HONEYLAND, only 85 minutes in length, is a stunning example of the precarious balance between nature and humans. It’s a subtle indictment of our capitalistic ways of taking what we want as a society and not caring about the consequence of our actions.
The cinematography is grand in its scope. Although Macedonia is not as lush as some other countries, the vistas captured by Ljuma are magnificent, nonetheless. HONEYLAND was a big winner at the Sundance Film Festival. It won three awards: World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary, Special Jury Award for Impact for Change and World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography. Need I write more?
Opinion: See It Now!
Three years in the making, HONEYLAND is a documentary following the exploits of a 50-something female beekeeper named Hatidze Muratova. She lives in a crude hut in the mountains of Macedonia with Nazife, her elderly, ailing mother.
Hatizde depends on the honey output of her bees to survive. She carefully bottles honey for sale in the marketplace of the closest city, some 20 kilometers away. Watching her haggle pricing with the merchants in the market belies the fact that she is illiterate, and lives without electricity or basic contact with the outside world. She is shrewd and wise beyond her communicative shortcomings.
Her mother is blind and paralyzed and depends totally on her daughter’s care. Their life is beyond anything any of us could imagine. Hatizde treats her bees like family, making sure she leaves half the honey at “harvest” time to ensure the bees have sustenance over the winter. Working with literally thousands of bees, she rarely, if ever, gets stung.
Hatizde and Nazife’s almost surreal existence is interrupted when a nomad family named Hussein settles near their home. After several months, the patriarch upsets the order of things by collecting as much honey as possible to maximize his earnings. The family has zero regard for the natural balance of the beehives which creates a major conflict with Hatizde.
Despite her meager situation, Hatizde has moments of true joy, especially when she receives radio broadcasts from afar and can listen to music when her antenna and the weather cooperate. She has a ready smile for the filmmakers, and a twinkle in her eyes when talking about her bees. She even sings on occasion. As Jeanne has pointed out, HONEYLAND was the most awarded film at Sundance this year. It is a most unusual viewing experience.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!