Honeyland follows the daily life of Hatidze Muratova, a remarkable lady who lives with her elderly Mother as the last occupants of a now-deserted Macedonian village, some 4-hours walk from the nearest city of Skopje. Hatidze has stayed there to care for her Mother, who doesn’t want to leave, but also because she’s the last in the line of wild beekeepers, chipping away at a living by collecting and harvesting the honey to sell in the capital.
While these humble beginnings seem distant from the world around her, it also feels charming and unique but her life is thrown into disarray after a family of travellers arrive and move in next door, along with seven children, cattle and associated chaos. We then witness how this change subtly and slowly picks apart the family heritage Hatidze has built for generations. While she welcomes them at first, and tries to teach the head of the family (Hussein) to care for the wild bees she harvests, he doesn’t listen to her advice and starts a quite distressing sequence of events that may take her hard-working, simple way of life and destroy it forever.
Because of the way we’re introduced to Hatidze, Honeyland narrative plays out more like a fictional feature film than your standard documentary which also adds a whole new level of genuine concern. Like a nature film, co-director’s Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov simply step back and witness events as they occur and by doing this, we’re almost taken right through history, by initially seeing an old tradition, appreciating the value of it and then it’s weighed up against Hussein’s family and his huge misunderstanding of the respect for the craft. There’s a narrative here and it’s captivating.
The documentary also shows us how Hatidze cultivates and grows her hives in the walls near her home. After originally gathering and protecting pieces of honeycomb from the hive, from a cliff-edge in the mountains nearby, her bees are clearly thriving. It’s not long before we see how the family simply don’t comprehend the wider context of the long-term benefits of managing the hives, so they have longevity. Instead, they sell parts off, too much in fact, and a destruction of her life seems to be beginning.
While you undoubtedly side with her story, it’s also clear to see that Hussein is just trying to get money to feed his family and live day-to-day. In this respect, you could say it’s not his fault because it’s clear he doesn’t understand the quintessential nature of business or the world around them but it doesn’t make the situation any less distressing. In many ways, this could be a representation of commercialism and modern society, ripping into nature with little to no concern for what it does as a wider context.
But Honeyland is also a closer look at the honour and respectability of Hatidze. She’s an outstanding, strong woman who puts herself outside of the small world she lives in and endeavours to do something good with her time on Earth. We’re often treated to wonderfully intimate conversation between her and her Mother but even when they argue, there’s a touching moment when they bicker and make-up at the same time, it’s beautifully poignant and full of human warmth. In places, their relationship reminded me of the one in the documentary América but these lives and relationships are very different. Her elderly Mother is barely living but she’s doing what she can by feeding her bananas and honey, even if she doesn’t want them.
Honeyland is a definite experience of humanity and all that’s good and bad but it mostly concentrates on the future, whatever the outcome. It’s beautifully filmed, using natural light and earthy tones of the surroundings to filter through to every scene. As the final scenes roll in, and winter starts to settle in, Hatidze hand-makes a radio aerial out of bits of metal and picks up a song on the radio, and as the song floats through the cold winter air, I found myself with both a tear in my eye and an unusually found hope, which is something you should always have in life.