In Honeyland, a woman utilizes ancient beekeeping traditions to cultivate honey in the mountains of North Macedonia. When a transient family moves in nearby and tries to do the same, it becomes a source of tension as they disregard her wisdom and advice.
JAS: From the opening shot of Honeyland, I knew we were in for a remarkable documentary. In it, we watch from above as a woman named Hatidze walks from her humble home carved of dirt through her remote Macedonian village and along a sweeping road up into the mountains, as graceful as a bighorn sheep, to a place on a rocky ledge where she keeps some of her wild honeybees. In spite of her ascent sending tremors of fear through my body, I was taken with the symbolic journey of heroism she was taking. Great introduction and cinematically awesome.
KC: Yes, the lushness of the film had me constantly questioning whether this was truly a documentary or not. But it is, it is a look at this wonderful female keeper of bees, whose methods are about being in relationship with, as opposed to manipulating, nature. This woman is as much a part of her land as her bees. The film centers upon her daily life caring for her old and invalid mother and keeping her bees while dealing with a disruptive family who move in next door, the patriarch of which is trying his own hand at raising bees for money. I read somewhere that the film was initially planned as a short film documenting the region surrounding the river Bregalnica but its area of focus changed when the directors met Hatidze.
JAS: The juxtaposition between Hatidze and the family next door is jarring. She has a graceful hand with the bees, barely uses a small can of smoke to interact with the hives, knows by the look and feel at what stage of production they are at, and lives in perfect harmony with the natural cycles of life they participate in. The father of the adjoining family on the other hand is crude with the bees. What is at first comical, watching his heavy hand with the bees, watching he and his children continually get bit by the bees, becomes just desperate and sad, when we realize that his enterprise is doomed to fail due to his total disregard for the process or Hatidze’s astute advice.
KC: Yes, the juxtaposition is startling. Both Hatidze and this man are counting on the bees to earn their livings yet she is clearly working with them, and he is simply trying to control them. It’s an apt metaphor about how nature works either with or against us. What was really poignant to me was how one of the young sons of the man deserts his own father’s enterprise to instead, spend his time with Hatizde learning how “to care.” His biggest critique of his own father is that he does not treat the bees with care. He’s already well aware through his tutelage with Hatizde, that her feminine touch holds the key and that his father’s brusqueness is not a place that feels as right to him.
JAS: There is something beautiful in the silent way Hatizde cares for all around her, and how she moves in the world boosted by an internal confidence that comes from her daily aptitude in her dance with the bees. Whether she’s staking out for a long journey into town to sell her jars of honey, moving fluidly through the markets to bargain with the vendors, or buying bananas to bring home to her ailing mother to feed her in bed in the wee hours of night, there’s certainly a sense that her time is lived fully even in its ordinariness.
KC: She has the spirit of a little girl to me—or I should say the limitless spirit of a child. Because what I am getting at is not gender-based, but youth-based. That feeling of being a young child left alone to play in the woods, where you’re armed with nothing but your own imagination and the organic materials at hand. So you come to know your surroundings, and together with the world, you co-create your own joy. I found it so endearing when Hatizde bought a box of hair dye and we watched her bent over a tiny little mirror in the room she shares with her mother, applying the dye so she would have a new hair color to accompany her to a festival when it came to town. Even though it was made clear in the film that Hatizde’s life is fated to play out as a single woman’s would, manless, carrying for a sick mother, focusing on the bee business, we never get a sense of her as an old maid, or a shrew … it’s these little glimpses into hair dye and honey-soaked fingers that remind me of a girl who’s been left alone to play in a world of her own making.
JAS: Yes, these filmmakers really struck liquid gold by finding her.
KC: Right. What might have been another mere moral tale about respecting our ecosystems, biodiversity, and exploitation of natural resources, became that and more. We got to contemplate consumerism and resource depletion while learning about the incredible grace and strength of an extraordinarily everyday woman.
JAS: The ending is heartfelt. The disruptive maladaptive family next door move on, leaving Hatizde with her livelihood destroyed, the bees barely giving her enough to eat. Her mother, dying throughout the film has died and she’s alone. But our last look at her is on a trail midst the undeveloped beauty of her land, sitting and sharing what she’s managed to salvage from the bees with her beloved dog, Jackie. We’re definitely left with a sense that she will, somehow, start again and the generosity of her heart will carry her through.