The observational cinema verité documentary, Honeyland, is a timely non-fiction environmental fable set out on the edge of the world, directed by Macedonian filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov. The film documents the life of Hatidze Muratova, one of the last of the European wild beekeepers to use an ancient method passed down generationally to harvest wild honey.

Hatidze in her home. Image courtesy of the BBC.

The filming of Honeyland is natural, evident in the film’s authentic narrative and its characters, but more notably in its audio. There is rarely any music featured in the film. Instead, we encounter the sounds of daily life — the bustling noise of Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia where Hatidze sells her raw honey for no more than 20 euros, the buzzing of bees, the trickle of water and the howling of wind and wolves, all of which cultivate in the viewer a sensation of spatially being with the female protagonist of the film.

Honeyland (2019). Image courtesy of IMDb.

In the first few minutes of the opening scenes of Honeyland (2019), we encounter the female protagonist, Hatidze Muratova collecting honey deep within the remote and rugged mountains in the region of North Macedonia and as she collects the honey, she says in soliloquy, if not to the bees, “one half for me, one half for you”.

“It was clear that the line would be the environmental message in the film,” says Ljumomir Stefanov in an interview with Point of View Magazine. “It is so closely connected to one of the United Nations’ environmental millennium goals, which is an equal share of benefits between users and providers.”

Hatidze Muratova harvesting honey. Image courtesy of the BBC.

Hatidze’s ancient method is later profoundly contrasted with the arrival of the nomadic Sam family who demonstrate an overarching impatience and harshness within their family dynamic, evident in their disrespectful verbal exchanges and threats of physical violence. Throughout the film, we view the extent to which these traits and behaviours translate into their interactions with the natural environment and non-human species.

The patriarch of the family, Hussein Sam, takes an interest in beekeeping and turns to Hatidze for her knowledge and assistance. As the film progresses, Hussein convinces himself that he understands the practice of breeding bees and harvesting honey. Hereafter, he makes the decision to sell his honey in bulk for more profit. The capitalist practice that Hussein uses to harvest honey later affects the bees in Hatidze’s beehive and consequently her precarious livelihood.

From this point in the film there is the realisation that alongside the foremost thematic concerns of environmental conservation and responsible consumption, also at the heart of Honeyland is ecological feminism. Both an intersectional activist movement and a critical theory, ecofeminism stresses that human realities and ecological realities are embedded, particularly the realities of marginalised and minority groups who, like nature, have been subjected to subjugation and inequality by the forces of capitalism and patriarchal social structures.

The nomadic Sam family. Image courtesy of The Arts Desk.

Hatidze and her mother, Nazife, are like women out of time as they share an isolated existence that is both bucolic and exceptionally harsh. The film captures the relationship between mother and daughter within the humble dwelling that these two women live in. There is intimacy in the many scenes captured in the home space of these two women, where unlike urban homes, there is only a single space in which to tend to the necessary social and private needs of the body.

Hatidze and her mom, Nazife. Image courtesy of The New Yorker.

Juxtaposing candlelight and hues of darkness and dusk, the scenes shot at night are reminiscent of an 18th century Dutch painting. It is at night that the two women have the most intimate conversations about life, death, marriage and children. In one scene, Hatidze ponders about her lost livelihood as a result of the untenable bee harvesting practice of the Sam family, and her mother persuades her to get married so that they both may be taken care of. These sentiments echo the lives of many women who are forced to turn to the possible security of marriage to ease their plight.

Nazife is elderly, ill and bed-bound, and there is bravery in allowing oneself to be filmed despite one’s bodily vulnerability. One of the most touching scenes in the film occurs after the death of Nazife.

As the audience, we are instantly prompted to remember that Hatidze is not a character in a fiction film, but a real person who has lost her mother and must now grapple with the truest and most profound depths of grief.
Hatidze and Nazife before bedtime. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

The film’s ecofeminist philosophy and Hatidze’s archaic yet wholly sustainable practice of harvesting honey that neither exploits the natural environment nor upsets its very delicate ecological balance, is reflected in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Responsible Consumption and Production, Reduced Inequalities, Climate Action and Life on Land.

The documentary of Honeyland provides access to an entirely different world of care and compromise. Honeyland is a poignant polemic against environmental exploitation, climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Through Hatidze, the film presents us with an ethical way of being that is so incumbent as humanity contends with an ecological crisis characterised by rapid environmental degradation and a multi-species extinction.

A honeybee on a leaf. Image courtesy of the BBC.

Watch the trailer of Honeyland here.

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