Hatidze Muratova lives in Macedonia, out in the countryside, and can claim to be the last of her kind: the last surviving female bee hunter in Europe. A bee hunter is one who can track down the insects and take some of their honeycombs to be used to harvest honey at her beehives close to her small hovel of a home she shares with her eighty-five-year-old, ailing mother. Hatidze herself is in her fifties, and mostly sees no one day to day except her parent, whose needs she attends to, having no children of her own after a life devoted to the bees. But while she lives in a perfect balance with nature, that is not the case with everyone on this planet, as she is about to find out to her dismay...
Honeyland was a tiny documentary, filmed over the course of three years and collected weeks of footage all told, on a miniscule budget that was edited down to less than an hour and a half. While the odds were against it catching on, that is precisely what it did as audiences from across the globe responded to its simple melancholy and regret - and there was possibly an element of anger in there as well. The opening act, if you like, sees its heroine going about her days as not only she has, but countless ancestors have too, collecting the honey with the confidence of one who knows exactly what she is doing and a feeling she is helping out nature in a manner that keeps the equilibrium.
So far, so nice, and you could legitimately suspect this was going to be the Buena Vista Social Club of beekeeping documentaries when it seems rather an indulgent look at a woman who exists in a state of one with Mother Nature, but also extreme poverty, thereby inviting a mixture of respect and pity. Yet the pity takes over once her new neighbours arrive, a large family who are ostensibly dairy farmers, bringing their herd to the region to feed and be prosperous. However, it quickly becomes clear this lot are in no way as attuned to the nuances of the land as Hatidze is, and when they decide to basically steal her idea, setting up their own hives, a sobering, grim metaphor grows apparent.
There are not enough people like the bee hunter in this world, and too many who blunder through causing chaos and destruction like her neighbours, ruining the place with their ignorance. What begins as a pleasant enough relationship, with Hatidze making a point of playing with the numerous kids and being friendly as a matter of course, turns very sour indeed when her advice, and eventually, warnings about how badly they are doing at this beekeeping lark fall on deaf ears. This family are portrayed, more or less, as unthinking louts, which may be thanks to the way this was edited, yet the fact remained what we do see of them does not exactly cover them in glory, either in word or deed. There was even a sequence where they take their brood swimming, and the barely supervised toddler daughter manages to almost drown.
This brush with death would be bad enough to witness in isolation, but the impression is that this family, representing most of the population of the planet, are putting everyone in danger by their lack of perception at what needs to be done to the environment to make it sustainable. As Hatidze becomes ever more miserable when her own colony is attacked and massacred by her neighbours' colony, despite her attempt to share her wisdom and warn such a thing would occur, they cause destruction wherever they go, and the comparisons between them and us watching, assuming we have as little grasp of what will keep the world alive as they do, are too blatant to ignore. With no narration, directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov nevertheless could not have been more clear about what they were telling us, and as their subject brings a humanity to the piece by her care of her bedridden mother, the implications that we were dooming ourselves just as surely as the bees were impossible to ignore. Honeyland might make you angry yourself, but whether it would be enough to stop the human race being so stupid was another question. Music by Foltin.