Honeyland is a docudrama, where the filmmakers have created a story based on historical events of a recent nature. This is a movie about bees and hives, about life and death, about our planet, its inhabitants and human nature.
It is compelling and mesmerizing and as good as it gets in cinematic entertainment. Honeyland was the most decorated film at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival this year. If this all sounds confusing let me clarify.
The story on the surface is simple; it’s about the last female beekeeper in eastern Europe who is trying to save the bees and their honey. All is well until a family moves in next door and sets up their own bee operation next to hers.
Upon the opening frame one is taken aback by the stunning and mesmerizing photography of the savage mountains of Macedonia. Frame after frame is like walking through a museum filled with beautiful art on every wall. As we get sucked into this landscape of beauty we meet Atidze, a beekeeper who is tending to her bees.
We find ourselves tense with the bees flying all around us, their buzzing sound in our ears, memories of our own childhood where we were bitten and at the same time we cautiously ride with Atidze sensing that she knows what she is doing.
Atidze is in harmony with the bees, singing to them as she goes about her business of dividing up the honey: one half for her and one half for the bees.
We meet Atidze's old and sick mother, whom she takes care of. We see her in the marketplace selling the bees’ honey and there is a fine balance between survival and happiness. Life is simple until the family moves in next door and tries to do their own bee farming. There is a rawness in this family’s life in the mountains that seems so far away from our reality in North America. Animals are treated like inventory, kids are expected to work for the family well-being, and basic needs for survival and existence is laid bare for us in this impoverished lifestyle.
As the family interacts with Atidze, the filmmakers have created a perfect juxtaposition of values. On one hand, Atidze is nurturing, sharing and understanding, while her new neighbours are harsh, selfish and disrespectful. There are conflicts and disruptions that threaten the very existence of Atidze and her bees.
Kudos to the directors, Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, for giving us an insight into the lives of these people and for bringing out moments of stark reality in the lives of the characters. Kudos to the cinematographer for giving us frames of intense beauty and kudos to the actors for portraying a story of desperate survival, the stress of human emotions and relationships, and the fragility of our planet.
For these reasons, I loved the complexity and beauty of this story and gladly give Honeyland five out of five tugboats.
Honeyland screens at the Patricia Theatre in Powell River as part of the Cinematheque series on Wednesday, November 6 (7 pm), and Thursday, November 7 (1:30 and 7 pm).
Stephen J. Miller is a producer and creative writer in feature films and television, and past owner of repertoire movie theatres.