Directors Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska spent three years filming Hatidze Muratova living her life as a wild beekeeper in isolated rural Macedonia, the last of her line.

Hatidze lives in a hut with her blind and paralyzed mother, walking into the nearest city — more than 12 miles away — to sell her honey. Her knowledge of beekeeping comes with a sacred rule: She only takes half of the bees’ combs and leaves the other half for them, which maintains a suitable balance with nature. During their time filming with Hatidze, the filmmakers witnessed the events that unfold in Honeyland, the definition of a documentary built off a found story.

An itinerant family moves in on the land next to Hatidze, upsetting the balance she has worked so hard to maintain. It’s a story told through images and scattered moments strung together from Hatidze’s perspective. It is deeply felt, and fascinating to the last second.

Honeyland‘s focus on Hatidze is remarkable, depicting a woman whose routine is in itself fascinating. She collects the honeycombs from the hills, brings them back, works with the bees until she has enough to take into town. Aside from her mother, she is essentially alone — never married, never even allowed to have suitors. To watch her work with the bees is akin to watching an expert woodworker construct a piece of furniture, her preternaturally calm hands aged by stings. Hatidze is quite charming when she goes into town to sell her honey, speaking of its unique qualities that are, in part, recitation of old superstition rather than something you would read on a product label. She lives the kind of life fantasized about by many in the Western world — living off the land, with nothing more than she needs, by and large alone. It seems idyllic except we know she’s lonely. Beekeeping is what she has, and that’s enough from afar… except it isn’t.

When the new family arrives in her area, she is friendly to them. She works alongside them until their business ventures start to smash headfirst into the health and production of her honey. Stefanov & Kotevska emphasize the noisiness of the new neighbors’ arrival and the mess of their massive family’s presence on the land they claim. The older children help their father in their business ventures, which include raising cattle and cultivating the beehives. The younger ones mostly run around underfoot. It is a madhouse. One child tries to get to know Hatidze, who welcomes him into her home, but even that falls apart. And as the family lingers, Hatidze’s careful methodology finds itself wanting in the face of an industrialized attitude of harvesting every last drop of nature’s bounty.

Themes like “mankind upsetting the balance of nature” and “the death of old traditions” are a backbone of the documentary genre, and in Honeyland they’re experienced first-hand. This isn’t a feel-good movie about a niche culture; it lacks the commercial whimsy of that sort of thing. Neither does it pine for a “forgotten time” during which people had it easy living in small groups, at one with nature. But it shows the disruptive nature of mankind’s thoughtless abuse of natural resources until they’re gone, at the expense of our own survival. And it lets us know, with great purpose, that Hatidze’s life alone in the world is an old way but equally unsustainable in its loneliness. There are no prescriptions here for a new human idyll. It’s one equilibrium to the next.


Honeyland will be played as part of the 2009 Heartland Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased here.


5:10 p.m., Thursday, October 17th – AMC Castleton Square Theater 4