Honeyland is one of this year’s strongest documentaries
A woman walks slowly across a mustard coloured field. Getting to a rock face, she reaches a gentle hand into the dark, pulling out slabs of honeycombs, bees tumbling out. The woman is Hatidze, an ancient and ageless-looking beekeeper, the last of her kind, who lives out a quiet existence in rural Macedonia with her elderly, ill mother.
Honeyland is full of these quiet rituals as Hatidze works the land to support herself and her mother. Disruption to their solitude comes in the form of rowdy new neighbours; a family of seven children, a herd of cattle, noisy chickens and the threat of losing Hatidze’s only livelihood. This conflict between neighbours – the modern versus tradition, young versus old, community versus individualism – drives the narrative of Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s documentary.
Maybe not the most riveting sounding story, but Honeyland is surprising in its ability to sink its hooks into the viewer. With a fly-on-the-wall approach, Stefanov and Kotevska allow action to unfold in front of their (and our) eyes, condensing over 400 hours of footage into a neat 85 minutes. Paradoxically, the minuteness of Honeyland’s focus is what allows for its grand scale, perhaps most poignantly encapsulated in Hatidze’s new neighbour’s recklessness wreaking havoc upon the careful ecosystem between humans and bees.
With more than enough human drama to drive the film’s narrative, accompanied by sweeping shots of honey-coloured fields, intimate candle-lit rooms and gorgeous close-ups of the film’s stars – the bees themselves – all captured by cinematographers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, Honeyland is one of this year’s strongest documentaries.
Released 13 Sep by Dogwoof; certificate PG