‘Half for you, half for me,’ says Turkish beekeeper Hatidze, as she shares honey with the bees she tends in order to ensure their continued survival. She’s the 50-something star of ‘Honeyland’, a powerful and observational documentary set in rural Macedonia that’s all about the fraught compromises of rural life. Its creators have distilled over 400 hours of raw footage into an elemental struggle between ancient tradition and greed.
Hatidze and her dying 86-year-old mum live in a dirt-floored house. There’s incredible footage of her bent frame set against epic landscapes, as she crawls across cliff faces with her buzzing hive strapped to her back. Then, a truck pulls up bearing a family filled with tumbling kids: they’re as rough as Hatidze is gentle, struggling to make a living from the land. The family’s patriarch, Hussein, starts to tend bees, too, but with many mouths to feed, he doesn’t share his honey.
The battle of wills between the pair is rich in symbolism. One of Hussein’s children almost becomes the bee-nurturing son Hatidze never had, before his father makes him raid the hives. Then the family’s animals mysteriously start to die, as though in punishment for dad’s avarice.
Documentary purists might be troubled by the fiction-like perfection of ‘Honeyland’. But that’s a sign of this film’s power, too; its makers stumbled upon an incredible true story, earned its participants’ trust and then wisely got out of the way.