An eco-parable in miniature, the new documentary Honeyland maintains an intensely specific focus on its primary subject, Hatidze Muratova, a Turkish beekeeper who toils in solitude in a mountainous region of Macedonia. In her, co-directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, have identified a compelling story: reportedly the last traditional female beekeeper in Europe, Hatidze carries on with a respect for nature untouched by mercenary motives, harvesting honey in order to provide for herself and her ailing 85-year-old mother. “One half for me, one for you,” she tells the bees she tends to.
When the Sam family, a rowdy bunch with seven children among their ranks, settles in next to Hatidze, Honeyland starts to unfold along the contours of a gripping drama. Motivated by the 10 to 20-Euro prices that she manages to get per jar of honey, her new neighbours take up beekeeping themselves—a choice that she is, for a time, willing to help with. But when they start to ignore her advice by overharvesting, thereby disrupting the area’s fragile ecosystem and decimating her own livelihood, tensions flare.
A multiple prizewinner at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Honeyland clearly foregrounds its concerns with humanity’s relationship with nature. But in attempting to draw out those resonances, the directors also demonstrate a distinct lack of curiosity. Their interest in Hatidze’s story doesn’t extend beyond its underlying eco-message; there’s little attempt to examine the larger context of her isolated existence. It might seem harsh to say that Honeyland merely pits her resilient tradition against her neighbours’ opportunism, as the Sam family are themselves in dire straits, merely struggling to get by. But in scene after scene, the directors bluntly contrast her stolid demeanor and concern for nature—she’s shown rescuing a bee from drowning and helping a turtle out of a ditch—against the family’s chaotic home life and destructive work practices. Kotevska and Stefanov do successfully advance Honeyland’s core environmental preoccupations. But crucially, they also fail to probe much further—and in doing so, they do both Hatidze and the Sam family a disservice.
Honeyland plays at the Vancity Theatre until August 17.
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