In Jackass 3D, there’s a self-explanatory skit called “beehive tetherball,” where Steve-O and Dave England withstand constant bee stings in an attempt to play this painful take on the playground game. England – understandably – cowers in fear as he plays, until he takes off running and screaming, “I can’t do it anymore!” Meanwhile, Steve-O, ever the stoic masochist, hunkers down, playing the game until the tetherball full of bees has wrapped around the pole. After, England continues to run around, unable to withstand the constant barrage of stings with any semblance of composure, while Steve-O just stands there, stating, “The more you freak out, the more you get stung. Idiot!”
Honeyland, the beautiful and compelling documentary from Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov about one of the last Macedonian beekeepers, lands on this same dynamic, albeit with more nuance and compassion. Honeyland opens with Hatidze Muratova, a beekeeper in her 50s, climbing up the side of treacherous mountain to collect honeycombs from a hidden beehive. Hatidze does this with patience, care, and little equipment. Whenever Hatidze takes the honey away from her bees, she takes half and leaves half. Hatidze’s honey goes for a good price, but she only takes what she needs, using the little money she earns for her troubles to pay for food to take care of her bedridden mother.
When the large, abrasive Sam family moves in next to Hatidze and shows interest in her beekeeping, Hatidze keeps half for herself and kindly gifts them the other half. Hussein, the father of the Sam family, quickly tries to turn a profit through his newly acquired bees and their herd of cows. Hussein’s lack of composure is often a burden to the success of the Sam family. Hussein routinely blames everyone else for what befalls the family, and his attempts to crank out as much honey as fast as possible means bad things for the ecosystem of the bees in the area.
Most important to Honeyland is how Kotevska and Stefanov present both Hatidze and Hussein. Hatidze’s bedside chats with her mother shows a woman bursting with love and humanity, even when the two bicker. Hatidze has regrets about her past, but she finds joy in little things. Her face lights up when a merchant gives her a fan that she can give to her mother for swatting away flies, and despite always keeping her hair wrapped in a scarf, she delights in dying her and her mother’s hair, an opportunity to be beautiful, even if it’s for no one but herself.
At the same time, Kotevska and Stefanov doesn’t turn Hussein into a villain either. Hussein more so comes off as a man in over his head, struggling to keep his head above water as jealousy and fear dictate his behaviors.
Honeyland begins as a remarkable portrait of a woman who has given her life goodness, whether it’s rescuing even a single bee that is drowning or passing on her knowledge to the neighborhood children (a somber reminder of the children she wanted but never had). Then Kotevska and Stefanov elegantly transition this into a story of the dangers of industry, greed and how quickly an environment can collapse without great care. The two directors turn one woman’s self-appointed job into a larger symbol for potential extinction and the concern mankind should have for the world, but instead take the easy way out for a quick buck. Honeyland shows that the more you freak out, the more you get stung, but perseverance and moderation can make life all the sweeter.