Author: Gila Orkin, our Guest Blogger
At the Oscars last week, Honeyland made history by being the first film to be nominated for both the documentary and the international feature-length categories. While it didn’t go on to win either award, this immersive film has resonated with audiences around the world with its portrait of a traditional beekeeper in the remote countryside of North Macedonia.
Honeyland opens with a breathtaking scene in which we follow Hatidze Muratova, a woman in her fifties, as she climbs the craggy mountain and walks along a precariously narrow ledge. She reaches a spot that she clearly knows well, and pulls away a few stones to reveal golden honeycombs embedded in the mountain. Wearing little protective gear, Hatidze seems unfazed by the swarm of bees and does not appear to get stung. Gently and precisely, she extracts some honeycombs from the hive while talking and singing to the bees.
Back home, Hatidze keeps a colony of her own next to the little hut that she shares with her elderly mother who is both blind and frail. The compassion, devotion, and patience with which she tends to her mother mirror her interaction with the bees. She sings to the bees, telling them that when the time comes, she will take half the honey and that they can keep half. Her sustainable beekeeping practices create a profound sense of harmony and interconnection with the natural world.
But this equilibrium is suddenly disrupted when a rowdy family with seven children and a herd of cattle move next door to Hatidze and her mother. Hatidze befriends the family, and soon the father, strapped for cash, decides to try his luck at beekeeping too. He does not heed Hatidze’s advice and carelessly over-harvests the honey. His actions, motivated by greed and willful ignorance, wreak havoc on the ecosystem and end up killing Hatidze’s bees.
Honeyland is more than just a powerful and poetic film about a traditional way of life that is vanishing from our world. It’s also an environmental allegory, drawing attention to what happens when we wantonly exploit the natural resources around us. It’s especially poignant at a time of environmental crisis and a global decline in the bee population. Hatidze reminds us of the need to treat the natural world with care and compassion. It’s a message that we all need to hear, now more than ever.