Honeyland (2019 film)

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Honeyland
Honeyland (2019 film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTamara Kotevska
Ljubomir Stefanov
Produced byAtanas Georgiev
StarringHatidže Muratova
Music byFoltin
CinematographyFejmi Daut
Samir Ljuma
Edited byAtanas Georgiev
Production
company
  • Trice Films
  • Apolo Media[1]
Distributed byNeon
Dogwoof
Release date
  • 28 January 2019 (2019-01-28) (Sundance)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryNorth Macedonia
LanguageBalkan Turkish[2][3][4]
Box office$835,054[5][6]

Honeyland (Macedonian: Медена земја, transliterated: Medena zemja) is a 2019 Macedonian documentary film directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov. It portrays the life of Hatidže Muratova, a beekeeper in the remote mountainous village of Bekirlija, North Macedonia and follows her lifestyle and the changes therein after the arrival of a nomad family in the neighbouring house. Originally intended as a government-supported documentary short about the region surrounding river Bregalnica in the central region of the country, the documentary's area of focus changed course upon the encounter between the filming team and Muratova. Honeyland received its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on 28 January.

Filming of Honeyland lasted for three years, with the directors collecting a total of four hundred hours of footage. Several environmental topics are explored in the documentary such as climate change, biodiversity loss and exploitation of natural resources. Two different ideologies are contrasted with the documentary's main protagonists, namely humanity's balance with the ecosystem portrayed through Muratova and consumerism and resource depletion portrayed through her neighbours. The main focus of the directors when filming were the visuals and during the editing process, the audio track was not used. As such, Honeyland contains elements of several documentary styles, including fly on the wall, direct cinema and cinéma vérité. The documentary also portrays the protagonist's relationship with her bed-ridden mother and her neighbors.

Honeyland received widespread and universal critical acclaim from film critics who praised its attention to visual details and the universal message of nature conservation. The documentary also received numerous prizes at award shows in Europe and the United States. It was the only film to win three different awards at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It was nominated for the Best International Feature Film as an entry from North Macedonia, and for the Best Documentary Feature at the 92nd Academy Awards, making it the first documentary in history to receive a nomination in both categories. It marks the country's second nomination at the Oscars since Before the Rain (1994). As of February 2020, the documentary's worldwide gross is US$811,741.

Plot[edit]

Honeyland is a documentary about the life and labors of Hatidže Muratova, a Macedonian wild beekeeper of Turkish descent who lives in the village of Bekirlija in the municipality of Lozovo. As the village is in a secluded mountain, she has no access to electricity or running water. She is one of the last wild beekeepers in the country and the continent. Hatidže lives together with her 85-year-old partly-blind bed-ridden mother, Nazife, who is completely dependent on her daughter's care. She earns her and her mother's living by harvesting the honey she gets from beekeeping in batches and selling her products in the country's capital Skopje, a trip for which she needs to commute for four hours on foot and by train. Muratova views her work as a means of restoring balance in the ecosystem. This is exemplified through moments when she chants the lines "half for me, half for you" to her bees when harvesting the honey. This principle is based on the customs and traditions of her ancestors, passed on by her grandfather who taught her that bees need to use their own honey for nutrition to obtain more energy for flying and mating.[7][8] The documentary shows numerous shots of Hatidže and her neighbors during the beekeping process, including the handling of the apiaries where the bees are kept, cutting honeycombs and collecting honey in jars.

The peace and quiet of her home-place and routine life are disrupted by the arrival of Hussein Sam, a Turkish nomadic rancher who arrives with a trailer. Traveling with him are his wife Ljutvie, their seven children and several imported domestic animals.[9][10] Hatidže maintains good relationships with them and bonds with the family's children who frequently invade her privacy. She proceeds to pass on the advice she got from her ancestors to Sam, explaining to him the art of beekeeping and instructing him on how to start his own colony. In need of financial means to sustain his family, Sam decides to start his own colony of bees. Sam disregards her advice and proceeds to harvest the entire honey his beehives produce upon a customer's request to provide him with as much honey as possible. This leads to Sam's bees attacking Hatidže's in order to obtain honey during the resource-scarce winter period, thus bringing an end to Hatidže's way of living. Hatidže scolds Sam for not following her advice as she finds her bee colony collapsing. After her mother passes away and the nomadic family decides to move on, she remains alone in the village.[11]

Conception and development[edit]

The film was originally planned as a documentary short about preserving the region surrounding river Bregalnica (pictured).

Starting from 2015, the documentary was shot over three years and the final version was condensed from more than 400 hours of footage.[12] Honeyland marks Tamara Kotevska's and Ljubomir Stefanov's second collaboration on a documentary movie, the first one being Lake of Apples (2017).[13] The movie was originally intended as a government-supported documentary short about the river Bregalnica and the preservation of the surrounding region in the municipality of Lozovo in Central North Macedonia.[14][15] As such, it was conceived as material for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's program for preservation of North Macedonia's natural resources. Financing for the documentary came from a $25,000 grant from a documentary fund by the San Francisco International Film Festival and 3,000,000 denars from the North Macedonia Film Agency.[16]

The directors' initial main idea was supposed to be the change of location of people inhabiting Bregalnica and the surrounding region along with the natural change of its course that takes place every ten years.[17] However, upon arriving to the intended filming location, they met Muratova and proposed to her to star in the documentary. Although initially taken aback, she agreed to get involved as she had been trying to get her message across to the world for a while.[18] Since the nomad family had not arrived to the village at that point yet, the directors were planning to focus primarily on Hatidže's relationship with her mother and there was no conflict in mind.[19] Both Hatidže and the nomad family had a reluctant approach when they first started being recorded; however, as filming progressed, they got accustomed to the directors' presence and virtually no scenes are fictional.[20]

Filming and production[edit]

An image of the village Bekirlija in the central region of North Macedonia where filming took place

Due to the remote location of Bekirlija (Macedonian: Бекирлија), the village where filming took place, the production team stayed there for three to four days consecutively before going to surrounding inhabited places to obtain supplies and recharge their filming equipment. They also slept in tents and hammocks in front of Muratova's house.[21] The production team consisted of six people, namely two directors, two directors of photography (DOP), one editor and one audio engineer.[17] One of the main challenges for the DOPs was the lack of electricity and to achieve the desired image quality they only had to rely on natural sunlight, candles, gaslight and a fire place.[22] When directing, Kostovska was in charge of portraying relationships between people while Stefanov was responsible for the environmental aspects of the documentary.[17]

The documentary makes no use of voice-overs and subjects filmed do not look directly at the camera, which gives it an "invisible" quality.[23][24] This style is also known as fly on the wall in documentary jargon.[25] When filming their subjects, Kotevska and Stefanov relied primarily on visual observations of their characters since neither of them speaks Turkish. This approach was followed through during the post-production stages as well, and during the first six months of the rough cut, which lasted approximately 12 months in total, the directors focused only on the visuals without making use of any audios or transcripts. In this way, they ensured the movie's narrative could also be solely followed visually.[20][22] The filming technique was noted to contain elements of direct cinema and cinéma vérité.[26][27] The camerawork which is steady during the first half of the movie and later becomes progressively more unsteady with the arrival of the nomadic neighbours.[26]

The film score for the documentary was composed and performed by the Macedonian band Foltin under the musical supervision of Rana Eid from the production company DB Studios in Beirut.[14] The directors opted for the band since they had previously collaborated with them and deemed them original and capable of immersing in the topic and creating music that was specifically tailored for the documentary.[28]

Themes[edit]

Several themes are explored in the movie, with Stefanov stating that the directors' three major focus points were climate change, biodiversity loss (exemplified through a declination of the bee population[29]) and exploitation of natural resources.[20] Stefanov further described his view on the concept as follows, "The point is to take as much as you need, not to take everything, and leave [something] for tomorrow and those who are providing for you".[21] Kotevska also commented that the most suitable comparison of the themes explored in the movie would be with modern consumerism. She described v's case as a microcosm that reflects "the same rules as all this world about how consumerism destroys the natural resources completely".[21] She further compared the buyer who ordered honey from Sam as "the pressure of society put on them" and his actions as stemming "between the moral values and the pressures of society".[21] Josh Kupecki from the Austin Chronicle remarked that Honeyland managed to depict how "capitalism functions even in the most rural areas".[30] Sheena Scott, writing for the Forbes described the motivation behind Bas's actions as "[t]he lure of profit is too great, to the detriment of a more suitable sustainable way of living".[23]

Set in the context of global warming and the rise of contemporary environmental awareness surrounding the time of its release, numerous critics viewed its themes as an important message to modern-day citizens and their lifestyles. A.O. Scott from The New York Times viewed the role and actions of Hussein as "supported by a crude utilitarian argument", while he viewed Hatidže as a "heroic figure" who sends a message to people who are similar to her "wasteful, wanton neighbours".[12] Michael O'Sullivan from The Washington Post also found a prominent cautionary message to viewers about the consequences of disrupting the universe's equilibrium.[25] The documentary's producer Atanas Georgiev also stated during the Sundance Festival that the production team was "very eager" to send the message of sustainability to the citizens and the government of the country and prompt them to take action to improve the country's air quality and decrease pollution.[31] Prominently featured throughout the film are shots of Macedonian landscapes and nature.

Another theme covered in the movie is the mother-daughter relationship between Hatidže and her bed-ridden mother, which cinematagorapher Ljuma and Kotevska described as that of a queen bee and a worker bee.[21][8] Out of the twenty five scenes which were filmed showing intimate moments shared between the two, the film eventually included approximately six.[17] Kotevska revealed during an interview that the relationship was supposed to capture the traditions of the Turkish minority in North Macedonia and the social expectation of the last daughter to take care of her parents until they pass away and thus not marry nor form her own family.[17] Stefanov also commented in an interview that it portrays the traditions of the region, regardless of religion or national background of the woman, for the last daughter to take care of her parents until their death.[8] Accordingly, critics have also viewed it as a film that explores anthropological topics.[25] David Fear writing for the Rolling Stone viewed it as a documentary that portrays "rural regionalism and lost art forms" also mentioning that the directors ensured viewers immersed in Hatidže's way of living during the first half of the movie so they can realize what is being lost during the latter half.[32]

Release[edit]

The world premiere of Honeyland took place at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on 28 January 2019. It was given a theatrical release by Neon in the United States on 26 July 2019.[33] In North Macedonia, the film had its premiere at the MakeDox Festival in Kuršumli An on 28 August 2019, where the filming team and Muratova also participated along with a concert by Foltin.[34] It was released in the United Kingdom on 13 September 2019 by Dogwoof.[3] The film was released on 22 October 2019 in digital form and DVD in the U.S. by Universal Studios.[35] It is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray disc in the United Kingdom by Dogwoof on 24 February 2020 with two special features, deleted scenes and theatrical trailer.[36][37] As of February 2020, Honeyland has grossed $789,612 in the United States and Canada, and $22,129 in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of US$811,741.[5][6]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 99% based on 80 reviews, with an average rating of 8.36/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Honeyland uses life in a remote village to offer an eye-opening perspective on experiences that should resonate even for audiences halfway around the world."[38] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the film received an average score of 86, based on 26 reviews, indicating universal acclaim.[39] A.O. Scott from The New York Times praised the directors for "render[ing] the thick complexity of experience with poignant clarity" and went on to call the film "quiet, intimate and intense, but touched with a breath of epic grandeur. It's a poem including history".[12] In a separate year-end review, Scott and Manohla Dargis of the same newspaper also named it the best movie of 2019 and classified it as "nothing less than a found epic".[40] Referring to its Oscar nominations, Bob Verini of Variety deemed it a "rare film that would be a strong contender in either category, in any year" due to its "strong geopolitical resonance and visual splendor".[41] Guy Lodge, another journalist from the same magazine wrote in a positive review that in the "painstaking observational documentary, everything from the honey upwards is organic".[42]

Grading it with four stars out of five, Ty Burr from The Boston Globe opined that its strongest point was that it serves as "both allegory and example, a symbolic tale about the importance of nature's balance and a specific story about these specific lives" and went on to call Muratova "a figure for the ages".[29] Los Angeles Times journalist Justin Chang described it as one of the rare movies that serves as an "intimately infuriating, methodically detailed allegory of the earth's wonders being ravaged by the consequences of human greed".[26] The New Yorker's Anthony Lane identified numerous topics covered in the movie, writing that it "swarms with difficult, ancient truths about parents, children, greed, respect, and the need for husbandry".[43] Writing for the The Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden called it an "unforgettable vérité character study and an intimate look at an endangered tradition".[44] Ed Potton of The Times, who gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, said of the documentary "Although it starts as a meditation on the hardship and rhythms of rural life, [it] becomes something more intimate".[45] Rating it with four stars out of five, Helen O'Hara of Empire magazine, summed up the film as "Stunningly beautiful and quietly powerful, this is a portrait of a vanishing way of life and of a determined woman who's just trying to make her way in the world."[46]

David Sims of The Atlantic called Honeyland "a rare nature documentary that's deeply personal". He further elaborated, "a sensitivity to both petty human concerns and striking natural beauty is what makes Honeyland a particularly enthralling documentary. Nature filmmaking that focuses only on the environment can feel a little dry, while so-called human-interest storytelling can be cloying; Honeyland succeeds by combining the two."[47] Sheena Scott from Forbes shared Sims's sentiments, writing that "it is the moments of intimacy that make this film so unique and beautiful".[23] Austin Chronicle's Josh Kupecki felt that the documentary is ultimately a "broader impact of humanity (in all its messy glory), and a document of so many things: grief, loss, happiness, and joy".[30] Rating it with three out out of four stars, Michael O'Sullivan from The Washington Post thought that despite the worthwhile patience it requires from viewers, the film "sneaks up on you in a quiet yet powerful way".[25] David Ehlrich writing for IndieWire gave the film a B+ in his review, calling it "a bitter and mesmerically beautiful documentary that focuses on a single beekeeper as though our collective future hinges on the fragile relationship between her and the hives."[33] One mixed review came from Stephen Whitty writing for the Screen Daily who despite praising the painstaking filming and imagery felt that its "commercial future seems limited" and thought that it "leaves plenty of questions – and, occasionally, its audience – behind".[27]

Accolades[edit]

Bottle of Honeyland honey from Donate for the Honeyland Community fundraising campaign

The film received its first monetary award prize of €30.000 by the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival in late August.[48] Money received from the award was used to purchase a new house for Hatidže in the nearby village of Doruflija in the municipality of Lozovo populated by her relatives and friends.[49] Kotevska and Stefanov also started a campaign titled Donate for the Honeyland Communit that sends jars of natural honey to donors of a fund that goes towards Muratova and her neighbours in their needs.[50]

Honeyland was the most awarded movie at the 2019 Sundance Movie Festival, winning in three categories for a documentary film, including Grand Jury Prize, the Special Jury Award for Impact for Change and the Special Jury Award for Cinematography, all in the World Cinema Documentary Competition category.[51][52] On 13 January 2020, Honeyland received two nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, namely Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature Film, being the only documentary ever nominated in the latter category.[53][7] It is the second Macedonian film to earn an Oscar nomination after Before the Rain (1994).[54] With the film achieving a nomination in two categories, it has been dubbed an "Oscar game changer" and has been attributed to pave the way for documentaries in future Academy Award nominations.[55]

Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, Atanas Georgiev Nominated [56][57]
Best International Feature Film North Macedonia Nominated [56][57]
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Documentary Feature Film Honeyland Nominated [58]
American Society of Cinematographers Awards Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Documentary Fejmi Daut & Samir Ljuma Won [59]
Boston Society of Film Critics Best Documentary Film Honeyland Won [60]
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Documentary Honeyland Nominated [61]
Cinema Eye Honors Awards Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Fejmi Daut & Samir Ljuma Won [62]
The Unforgettables Hatidže Muratova Won
Outstanding Achievement in Direction Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking Atanas Georgiev & Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Documentary Film Honeyland Nominated [63]
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directing – Documentaries Ljubomir Stefanov & Tamara Kotevska Nominated [64]
Docaviv Film Festival Best International Film Honeyland Won [65]
European Film Awards European Film Award for Best Documentary Honeyland Nominated [66]
Florida Film Critics Circle Best Documentary Film Honeyland Nominated [67]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Documentary Feature Honeyland Nominated [68]
International Documentary Association Awards Best Cinematography Fejmi Daut & Samir Ljuma Won [69]
Pare Lorentz Award Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov & Atanas Georgiev Won
Best Director Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov Nominated
Best Feature Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov & Atanas Georgiev Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Non-Fiction Film Honeyland Won [70]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Non-Fiction Film Honeyland Won [71]
Online Film Critics Society Best Documentary Film Honeyland Nominated [72]
Producers Guild of America Awards Best Documentary Motion Picture Honeyland Nominated [73]
Satellite Awards Best Documentary Film Honeyland Nominated [74]
Seattle Film Critics Society Best Documentary Honeyland Nominated [75]
St. Louis Film Critics Association Best Documentary Feature Honeyland Nominated [76]
Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary Honeyland Won [77]
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact for Change Honeyland Won
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography Honeyland Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Documentary Honeyland Nominated [78]
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Documentary Honeyland Nominated [79]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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