Nestled in an isolated mountain region deep within the Balkans, Hatidze Muratova lives with her ailing mother in a village without roads, electricity or running water. She’s 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.
Hatidze’s 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, harmony and discord, exploitation and sustainability. Even as the family provides a much-needed respite from Hatidze’s isolation and loneliness, her very means of survival are threatened.
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. HONEYLAND is made with the widescreen sweep of an epic, visually ambitious and driven by an unexpectedly dramatic narrative and a surprising sense of humor. 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.
The HONEYLAND story began long before humans ever lived in the region, but our narrative starts with its last two remaining inhabitants: Hatidze and her mother Nazife. Just as worker bees spend their entire lives taking care of the queen bee which never leaves the hive, Hatidze has committed her own life to the care of her blind and paralyzed mother, unable to leave their ramshackle hut. The film is set in an unearthly lan, unattached to a specific time and geography, unreachable by regular roads, and yet, only 20 km away from the nearest modern city.
The families here use an ancient Turkish vernacular, so the film is driven by visual narration rather than dialogue, the characters are understood through their body language and their relationships, and their emotions. This visual and visceral communication draws the audience closer to the protagonists, and more importantly – closer to nature. Engendering the feeling that we as humans are but one species among many, equally affected by the circumstances around us.
The Nagoya Protocol – a United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – came into force at the end of 1993 and established global guidelines on access to natural resources. Its objective was the promotion of fair and equitable sharing of benefits for both providers – i.e. land, plants, animals – and users – i.e. humans – of resources. Genetic diversity, or biodiversity, enables populations to adapt to changing environments and a changing climate, contributing to the conservation and sustainability of resources. The “honey crisis” in this film illustrates the risk of ignoring these protocols and upsetting the respect for biodiversity.
Hatidze’s story is a microcosm for a wider idea of how closely intertwined nature and humanity are, and how much we stand to lose if we ignore this fundamental connection.