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Review: Honeyland

August 2, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Haditze Muratova is the last of the wild bee keepers in Macedonia. Living in an old hut in the Balkan mountains, she spends her time tending to a colony of wild bees, and is careful not to disturb them as she extracts pieces of honeycomb from their hive, always following her rule of only taking half the honey and leaving the rest for the bees.

What she doesn’t use for herself, she sells in the village, making just enough money to buy food and care for her elderly, dying mother. But her simple way of life is threatened and the balance of nature is thrown off when a new family moves onto the property next to her, with seven kids and a bunch of cattle.

Haditze forms a friendship with the neighbour’s young son, and starts to teach him about living in harmony with nature and her respectful, humane bee farming practises. But when his family starts farming their own bees, and mass producing honey in order to sell it, their greed threatens to destroy Haditze’s livelihood.

Directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, who gained incredible access into Haditze’s world over the three year shoot, Honeyland – which picked up a trio of awards at the Sundance Film Festival when it premiered there back in January – is a remarkably photographed film that is often breathtaking to watch. The cinematography is beautiful, featuring close ups of the bees and some incredible cinematic shots that are worthy of being seen on the big screen.

In its own quiet way, the story of Honeyland also becomes a powerful and poetic allegory of a single worker being overtaken by big business, reaching a heartbreaking but seemingly inevitable conclusion that draws parallels to the displacement of manufacturing workers all across North America as jobs are lost to mass production and greed. This is a compelling, gorgeously shot portrait of a dying way of life, and one of the year’s best documentaries.

Honeyland is now playing in limited release at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival.

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