(2019) Hulu

The Story

Honeyland follows the daily life of Hatidže Muratova, a Macedonian bee keeper. Muratova lives with her mother in an extremely remote area on the mountains of Macedonia. As the film progresses, the Sam’s, a family of nomads, moves in near Muratova’s land. Muratova befriends the family, but sadly their relationship sours when Muratova’s bees are attacked and killed by those owned by the Sam family. After seeing the death of the bees, in addition to a few other developments in the Sam’s personal life, the family herds their cattle and travels to their next temporary home. The film ends with Muratova being left alone with just her mother, contemplating whether life in a remote village is truly worth the struggle, a theme that comes up multiple times in the film.

Honeyland shows the harsh reality of what life is like for members of the Muratova and Sam families.

The District Decision

Honeyland is a extremely raw and eye opening documentary. At several points during the documentary, I was left with my jaw on the floor in awe that I was watching footage from 2015-2018. Muratova has no running water, no electricity, and lives off the land as much as possible. Like Muratova, the Sam family also lives unlike most people in Europe and the Westernized world. The Sam’s, who are nomads, pile all of their belongings in an old camping trailer and a few vehicles roaming from place to place. In addition to their caravan of vehicles, the Sam family also has a large herd of cattle. As you will see, the Sam’s use these cattle as a source of income, food, and livelihood, forcing the true meaning of sustainability. The family exemplifies what it means when you hear the phrase everyone has to pull their weight, employing everyone in the family, no matter age or gender to complete hard labor tasks on a daily basis.

The life that Muratova and the Sam’s live is nothing short of amazing. In addition to an already difficult way of life, Muratova also has to care for her 85 year old mother. I found myself getting attached to this storyline just as much as any of the others. The crew does an excellent job detailing the pain of Muratova’s mother as well as the weight it puts on Muratova herself. All this is done primarily through images and a handful of subtitles.

I started Honeyland not really knowing what to expect. Once I completed the film, I thought back about what I had just watched. One of these thoughts was that I really enjoyed the ability to document the two families in such a raw fashion. The film crew really allowed the storylines to develop on their own, which resulted in 80+ minutes of real life and authentic images. The next thought I had was how tough life is for countless people around the world who have a life similar to that of the Sam’s or Muratova. I ended Honeyland with a sense of inspiration and a new found respect for the Sam’s and Muratova way of life. The documentary really put into perspective what things in life are essential and what we merely perceive as being essential.

The backstory of Honeyland is just as interesting, if not more, than the film itself. When directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov first envisioned Honeyland, the intent was to develop a short film. The film was to be government funded and focus on the Bregalnica River area. During filming, crews met Muratova and the subject of Honeyland soon shifted from Bregalnica to the relationship between Muratova and her mother. The storyline again took a twist when, unbeknownst to everyone involved in the film, the Sam family moved in next to Muratova. Like a scripted movie (it wasn’t) a riff came between the Sam family and Muratova, which ultimately lead to the Sam’s departure. Muratova is left alone to deal with losses in multiple areas in her life.

Final Grade: The District Decision for Honeyland is that the film is Worth It with a final grade of A-.

The District Decision Grading Scale: Skip It (not worth the watch), Niche (worth the watch for those interested in the topic), Background Noise (worth having on while doing other activities), Worth It (worth your time), Classic (one of the best examples of the documentary genre).

District Facts

  • Some of the underlying themes behind Honeyland is conservation and a focus on living with the land through sustainability.
  • The filming of Honeyland took 3 years to complete, 2015-2018.
  • The relationship between the Sam family and Muratova was never an initial focus of the film, but as time went out the relationship between the two families developed into its own storyline.
  • Honeyland‘s initial premier was at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
  • The film marked the first time in history of the Oscars that a documentary was nominated for Best Intentional film (2020).
  • Honeyland has a 100% rating on the tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director(s)Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov
Producer(s)Atanas Georgiev
Run Time87 Minutes

Awards and Accolades

Academy AwardsBest Documentary2020Nominated
Best International FilmNominated
Sundance Film FestivalWorld Cinema Grand Jury Prize2020Won
Special Jury Award for Impact for Change2020Won
Special Jury Award for Impact for Change2020Won
The film was nominated for several other awards throughout the year.

More about The Documentary District: We are a team dedicated to reviewing documentary films and shows in an effort to promote independent film making. We also provide information on where to stream new documentaries as they become available. If you are a film maker and want us to review or feature your work, you can E-mail us at DocumentaryDistrict@gmail.com.

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