The Birth of Honeyland

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Local news, 04.02.2020

An inspiring story, a breathtaking nature, a lesson for sustainable development, and a group of four young film creatives… The idea for the Oscar-nominated Macedonian documentary Honeyland was discovered through the Swiss-supported Nature Conservation Programme in North Macedonia.

The shooting of the Honeyland documentary © Ljubomir Stefanov

It is already a well-known documentary with over 35 awards received at the most prestigious film festivals all over the world, and nominations for Oscars in the categories Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary. Today many people recognize the motto of Honeyland hero Hatidze Muratova: ‘take half of the honey and leave the other half for the bees. If one breaks the rule, everyone pays the price.’ But not many people know that Hatidze, the last known woman practicing wild beekeeping in Europe, was discovered through the Nature Conservation Programme (NCP) of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). So, how did it all start? 

For the past 8 years, Switzerland has been supporting the Nature Conservation Programme in North Macedonia which aims to support the country in conserving its natural ecosystems and outstanding biodiversity through promotion of their sustainable use and management. The target area of the the programme is the Bregalnica region. In the first three years of the project, more than 30 experts were engaged to conduct research about the biodiversity in this region. The results showed that the Bregalnica region is of extraordinary geomorphological and biodiversity significance due to the presence of fossil riverbed and meanders of the Bregalnica river and high diverse flora and fauna species and habitats. And even more interesting, during these field visits the experts met Hatidze and discovered her unique style of beekeeping and honey production. To promote the important findings, NCP engaged a group of young local filmmakers to produce a series of short promotional videos to raise awareness about the region’s unique biodiversity, one of which focused on sustainable beekeeping. But when the film crew met Hatidze for the first time, the idea for the short video evolved into something more. In the beginning, as the directors explained, they thought that the way how Hatidze is taking care of the bees was some kind of tradition or ceremony. However, once they understood what was behind the idea of “take half, but leave the other half”, the documentary was born.

“The film is multilayered, it shows life - by itself. It covers birth, life and death. The main message is that there should be a fair division, e.g. use of natural resources. That is actually the principle of Hatidze's beekeeping”, says director Ljubomir Stefanov.

NCP and SDC recognized the value of Hatidze's story as a powerful way to raise public awareness on environmental protection and sustainable use of resources. The support for the post-production of the documentary came from the North Macedonia Film Agency.

The filming crew had four young members that worked together on Honeyland, directors Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, cinematographers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma who produced around 400 hours of raw filming material in order to produce the documentary. They followed Hatidze for three years and learned a lot about her simple rule about sustainability and responsibility for others.

“Looking back, not one single step in the long journey of making this film could be called ‘easy’. Living and working those three years in almost unbearable living conditions, in a village without roads, electricity, running water or available food, beaten by bees and fleas in a +40C, or bitten by frost and cold in -20C… Then later, spending more than 10 hours a day in the editing room for more than a year. The reasoning behind making this film was questioned many times, but in the end, the final result is something we cannot be more proud of”, said Tamara Kotevska, director of Honeyland.

In the coming years, through its Nature Conservation Programme, Switzerland will continue to support North Macedonia in protecting its outstanding biodiversity and natural ecosystems through the promotion of their sustainable use and management.