The award-winning documentary Honeyland shares insight into our relationship with nature

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By Karen Henry|July 26th, 2019
Honeyland Film Still woman with bees

Honeyland offers no explanations, a story simply just unfolds. This documentary begins with a woman’s pilgrimage in an arid high desert mountains supported by unusual harmonic music. Is this modern day or an ancient time period? It is a doc, so it must be recent. And, where in the world are we? It turns out that we are following an isolated Balkan villager who collects honeycombs from her secret beehives tucked in mountainous rock and hidden in the walls of stone ruins. With her bare hands, she pulls juicy honeycombs out of the cacophonous hives. But she only ever takes half of the honey at any time.

Hatidze tenderly takes bees and honey back home, chanting and releasing the bees on the way to her mud-and-stone hut in an abandoned village. Caring for her ailing deaf mother, Hatidze is clearly loving and generous, yet sadly she appears as abandoned as the ruins she lives amongst. Her teeth are terribly misshapen, she longs for a husband, her aging mother has no health care, and their diet seems very limited –relying heavily on honeycomb.

This quietude of Hatidze’s foothill village, populated by this one industrious beekeeper and her bedridden mother, is punctuated when a nomadic family moves into the ruins next door. They show up with six children and a herd of cattle. You watch this inexperienced family attempt to cattle farm and harvest honey like Hatidze. They shortly learn what happens if you don’t respect Hatidze’s survival rule for the bees of taking only half of the honey; instead, they retrieve most of it from their bee racks. The family’s attempt to rush to market ends up killing many cows and most of the bees. They inadvertently create devastating results, and before winter, the family packs up and is gone. Only Hatidze is left to weather the harsh winter season.

The stoic beauty of Honeyland is filled with wonderful contrasts. Bright, wide daylight landscapes contrast with golden ambient candlelit or stove-lit interior closeups. The intimate family life moments are not easily forgotten. Hatidze’s primitive and isolated lifestyle among ruins with no running water or electricity is contrasted by incidental reminders of nearby modern life: a bus ride to the bustling city to sell honey, airplanes flying overhead, a cell phone video taken at the local festival. And, strikingly, Hatidze’s stoic respect for the bees is contrasted with the family’s vulgar and frenetic attempts at farming.

Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov explain, “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.” They became interested in Hatidze’s story after noticing her secret bee holes during an environmental video shoot in their native country of Macedonia. Not understanding the ancient Turkish vernacular of the two villager families, they edited the entire film before a translation was done, thereby creating a very visual story.

Award-Winning Sundance Doc
With such stunning cinematography, it is hard to believe this film is a true story. No wonder Honeyland garnered three awards at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Docs, the Cinematography Award for World Cinema Docs, and the Special Jury Prize for Impact & Change.

Honeyland Opens in Theaters
Opens in theaters July 26. Playing in LA at the Laemmle Royal. Learn more at:

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