Director: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov
Runtime: 87 minutes
A woman in her fifties named Hatidze lives in a remote area of the Balkans in Macedonia and tends wild bees. Her only companion is her blind, nearly deaf, bed-ridden mother whom Hatidze cares for day and night unless she is tending her bees or walking four hours to the nearest city to sell honey, her sole source of income. She uses the money she earns to buy bananas and bread—soft things her mother can eat—and, because she is a woman after all, a box of dye to keep her hair the chestnut color of her youth when she still had hope of marriage and a family, before her village was abandoned by everyone but she and her mother. Before she became the last living beekeeper of her kind in the world.
Honeyland is a documentary about three years in Hatidze’s life. The small, Macedonian filmmaking crew found Hatidze after they discovered her hives tucked in rocks and trees throughout the Macedonian countryside. They learned Hatidze had long dreamed that a TV show would be made about her beekeeping, because she realized that her ways which had been passed down to her through generations of wild beekeepers would die when she did.
While the documentarians are following Hatidze, another group of people show up in her abandoned village – a family of nomadic Turks, the Hussians. This nomadic family is large, a mother and father and seven children, and they are driving a heard of cattle before them. Hatidze welcomes them warmly at first. Then, after showing them how to tend bee hives, a conflict develops between Hatidze and the family, because the family doesn’t obey the same ethic that Hatidze and her forebears obey which has sustained their wild hives for generations. The tension in the story is in this conflict between Hatidze’s graceful way of life and the desperation of the Hussian family.
Hatidze is a bit like a bee herself, going out into the hills in the day and coming back to her hive/home to care for her mother, like a worker bee with her queen. The family is more like their cattle. They rampage in, eat everything in site, and then trample on. They are chaos and consumption.
Often in documentaries, we want the filmmakers to step in and do something to help the people they are filming. I’ve never more wanted the filmmakers to intervene in their subjects’ lives than I did watching Honeyland. But the filmmakers simply document what happens. Which is to their credit, as they skillfully capture what is precious about Hatidze’s life, and make preserving it feel important.
Honeyland tells a straight-forward, idiosyncratic story about people utterly unlike any others on the planet, but it also prompts us to ask difficult questions of ourselves. Hatidze’s ethic of only ever taking half the honey and leaving half for the bees; her deep knowledge of how the bee colonies best operate in all seasons; her patient care for her mother; her willingness to help this poor family and then her disgust with them when they abuse her gifts – all of this asks us to consider the ways we are living in this world. What are we taking without giving? Whom are we running roughshod over in our desperate quests for safety and security? Honeyland doesn’t offer easy answers, but it does make us long for them, and it gives us an example of how to be more at one with the world.
Written by- Elijah Davidson