Tuesday, November 5, 2019

DOC NYC Shortlist Spotlight: Honeyland

In advance of DOC NYC 2019, which begins November 6th, I’m making my way through some of the contenders on the annual Features Shortlist, which selects the films likeliest to contend for the Oscar for Best Documentary.

Directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov
DOC NYC Screenings

Industry has advanced to a certain point in developed countries that it’s often hard for people to imagine and understand the personal touch and care needed to foster natural products without the use of modern machinery. Factory tours across the United States offer a vantage point from which to observe workers in the middle of their shifts doing their jobs and ensuring quality control, but that assumes the presence of some surrounding operation, which isn’t always the case, especially in rural communities where everything is completely hands-on and requires an extreme devotion to a particular vocation.

In Northern Macedonia, Hatidze serves as a beekeeper, taking care that she is able to cultivate the honey that she needs to sell while leaving half for the bees, ensuring a balance so that she can continue the harmonious relationship. Her indigenous practices are disrupted with the arrival of a Turkish family, who have different ideas about how to do things and are more concerned with profit over ancient ways of producing only what’s possible without artificial intervention. Determined to maintain what has always worked for her, Hatidze must try to endure and persevere against this new threat of competition and obliteration.

This film won several prizes at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, and is both a top contender for the Best Documentary Oscar and the country of North Macedonia’s official submission for Best International Feature. There is no denying the eye-opening value of spotlighting this extraordinarily impressive woman set on continuing her way of life and not taking the easy way out, refusing to be forcibly changed or trampled out of existence. While its pacing is purposely slow, following Hatidze as events in her life drive the narrative, there is a truth and honesty at play here that can’t be replicated.

Under a broader definition of documentary filmmaking, this film falls into the perseveration subcategory, showcasing someone who is defying trends of modernization and industrialization. This is a journey into the mountains of North Macedonia, a place not known to many and visited by even fewer. It may not be riveting or pulse-pounding, but stopping to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of beekeeping is an unexpected delight. This documentary didn’t astound this reviewer quite as much as it seems to have won over wider festival and critical audiences, but for those intrigued by any aspect of it, it’s certainly worth a watch.


No comments: