Honeyland, Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s award-winning ethnographic documentary, is a fascinating character study of a rural North Macedonian beekeeper, Hatidze Muratova, and her profound connection to an ancient land, its people and traditions. Hatidze’s life and unique relationship with the tiny, buzzing insects that produce her honey are beautifully captured on film by cinematographers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, often using only natural light or the intimate illumination of a single candle.
Hatidze shares a modest cottage with her elderly, bedridden mother (Nazife Miratova), whom she cares for. It’s an enduring relationship bound by love, mutual concern and respect. Hatidze maintains two hives — one hidden in a nearby mountain ridge that requires an arduous hike up a dusty trail to reach and the other located behind a stone slab in the exterior wall of her home. She makes her living selling honey to the Old Bazaar in Skopje that’s a day’s train ride away. Hatidze enjoys bartering with the local vendors at one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans that’s been there since at least the 12th century. She takes pride in getting a fair price for her hard work and high quality honey.
Hatidze has dedicated her life to living in harmony with nature. She respects and nurtures her bees and is used to handling them with limited protective gear because there’s apparent mutual trust. She sings and talks to them while she breaks apart the honeycombs to collect the nectar, taking only what she needs and leaving the rest on a rock for the bees to enjoy. When a noisy nomadic family moves in and disrupts her peaceful existence, she befriends them, tolerates their unruly behavior, and tries to be a good neighbor. When they decide to try their hand at raising bees, she takes a genuine interest and advises them to conserve and respect the natural balance. To her dismay, they exploit the bees for a quick profit, threaten their sustainability by accelerating the harvest, and imperil her livelihood.
While Hatidze is a good steward of the land and its resources, her new neighbors are not. Eventually, they move away and calm returns to the small village. Hatidze’s mother dies, another season passes, and life goes on as it has for centuries and generations in this region.
Honeyland is a riveting, deeply human story about a vanishing way of life. Kotevska and Stefanov enjoy a comfortable rapport with their subjects who appear natural and at ease revealing themselves in front of the camera. It makes for a breathtaking cinematic journey that’s not to be missed.