Nestled in an isolated mountain region deep within the Balkans, we are introduced to Hatidze Muratova, the last in a long line of Macedonian wild beekeepers, eking out a living farming honey in small batches to be sold in the closest city – a mere four hours’ walk away. The hives thrive in unexpected locations – high in the mountains regions that necessitate Hatidze to teeter on the edge of a sheer drop and in walls that surround her property, and one time, in the trunk of a fallen tree.
Hatidze lives with and cares for her 85 year old mother, bedridden and frail – their relationship tender and taut. The money made from selling the pure honey covers her mother’s medication and meagre food proportions for themselves, their dog and a host of cats.
Their peaceful existence is thrown into upheaval by the arrival of an itinerant family, with their roaring engines, seven rambunctious children and herd of cattle. Hatidze optimistically meets the promise of change with an open heart, offering up her affections, her brandy and her tried-and-true beekeeping advice.
It doesn’t take long however, before Hussein, the itinerant family’s patriarch, senses opportunity and develops an interest in selling his own honey. Hussein has seven young mouths to feed and nowhere to graze his cattle, and he soon casts Hatidze’s advice aside in his hunt for profit. This causes a breach in the natural order that provokes a conflict with Hatidze that exposes the fundamental tension between nature and humanity when they are both exploited for selfish reasons.
The debut feature from documentarians Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, Honeyland was shot over three years by a skeleton crew committed to an intimate collaboration between filmmakers and subject. The scenes are beautiful and minimal dialogue helps elevates the humour and friction between the players.
After watching it, you can’t help but wonder at this one story being a cautionary tale for the future – where destruction of the planet continues at a dizzying pace and the distribution of wealth and power is held by a predictable few.
It’s a tough and tender portrait of the delicate balance between humankind and nature, a glimpse at a fast disappearing way of life, and an unforgettable testament to one extraordinary woman’s resilience.
Honeyland is screening now at Dendy Coorparoo and Palace James Street.
Directed by Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska
Produced by Atanas Georgiev
Featuring Hatidze Muratova, Nazife Muratova, Hussein Sam, Ljutvie Sam, Mustafa Sam, Muzafer Sam, Veli Sam, Ali Sam, Alit Sam, Gamze Sam, Ljutvish Sam, Safet Javorovac