Filmed in an abandoned village in the Balkans, “Honeyland” was the most awarded movie at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It has won a host of awards at festivals around the world. It’s not hard to see why. It’s exquisitely filmed. It tells an important, immediately relevant and moving story, with a strong dramatic arc. We care deeply about some of the characters. If this sounds like a work of fiction, surprise: “Honeyland” is a documentary.
Directors Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska were originally commissioned to create an environmental video for the Nature Conservation Project in Macedonia. Researching the region, they found Hatidze Muratova, a woman in her 50s. Reportedly “the last female wild beekeeper in Europe,” she lived with her bedridden mother in a small house with no electricity or running water, TV or internet.
Hatidze kept bees responsibly and respectfully. She took honeycombs from a stone beehole on the side of a mountain, walking there and back along a high, narrow ledge, and used them to populate a colony near her home. She sang to the bees. When it came time to collect the honey, she took half and left half for the bees, to keep the colony healthy. Hatidze supported herself and her mother by selling her honey in the modern city of Skopje, 12 miles away by foot and train.
At some point during what might have been a lyrical story of living in balance with nature, the rowdy Sam family moved in literally next door: father Hussein, mother Liutvie, and seven children ranging in age from toddler to teen. They brought with them a herd of cattle and several chickens. They lived in a trailer under a tarp. They were noisy and messy. The argued loudly among themselves and invaded Hatidze’s privacy.
With the appearance of the Sams, the filmmakers lucked out, even if Hatidze didn’t. Her peace was shattered. (“Curse the neighbors!” her mother exclaimed. “May God burn their livers!”) But Hatidze, a woman with a kind heart, welcomed the Sams and spent time with them. She gave one of the girls a kitten. She showed one of the boys how she cared for her bees. Hussein, eager to get ahead in life, or at least not go under completely, decided he would keep bees, too. He knew a man who would pay him for delivering large amounts of honey in a hurry.
Sitting in the theater, popcorn in hand, it’s not hard to see where this is going. While Hatidze will save a bee from drowning by dipping a leafy lifeboat into the water, the Sams as a group don’t treat living things well, including each other. “It better not be a male,” one of the boys says as he pulls a newborn calf out of its mother. Later in the film, dozens of calves die. From illness or neglect? Instead of caring for the remaining calves, the Sams argue about who’s responsible. When the bees arrive – several flats of bees – all of the Sams, even the toddler, get stung.
Hatidze pleads with Hussein not to take his honey too quickly, or take too much. If his bees don’t have enough to eat, they will attack and kill her bees. Hussein brushes her off. He orders his children to stop seeing her.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Stefanov and Kotevska took their time making “Honeyland.” This wasn’t a rush job. Nobody seems to be acting – except, perhaps, the buyer of Hussein’s honey, a real villain. But nobody looks at the camera and they all allow it into their lives, from intimate candlelit conversations between Hatidze and her mother to all-out verbal brawls among the Sams. In fact, the filmmakers spent three years collecting more than 400 hours of film footage. One reason it took so long is because the region is dry and difficult, with no agriculture or roads and a few scattered, crumbling stone buildings. A crew could spend at most five days there at a stretch. There are no hotels, showers, or restaurants. They had to bring in everything they needed, including food and water.
Especially because we know these people are real, not actors playing roles, “Honeyland” is heart-wrenching. It’s beautiful to watch (one of its big Sundance awards was for cinematography) and fascinating in the way of documentaries filmed in places we’ve never seen and will probably never go. It takes some of the biggest stories of our time – the dire circumstance of bees, environmental degradation, the planetwide peril we’re in – and distills them to Hatidze vs. Hussein. And so you know, all hope is not lost.
Friday through Sunday at Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson: Ballet Co.Laboratory Presents “Remembering the Little Prince.” A retelling of the ballet from Ballet Co.Laboratory’s 2018-19 season will feature the company’s dancers along with choreographers and dancers from the Hudson area. In the story, Eloise, a young girl, and her workaholic father are transported to the world of Saint-Exupéry’s fable and its many life lessons. Choreography by Zoé Emilie Henrot, music by Camille Saint-Saëns. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($20-27).
Saturday at Coldwater Spring: Groveland Gallery’s Plein Air SmackDown IX. Coldwater Spring is part of the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, located south of Minnehaha Falls. (Did you know we have a national park in the Twin Cities? Well, we do.) On Saturday, 25 Groveland Gallery and guest artists will be painting there “en plein air.” Here’s a map showing the artists’ names and locations. The artists will be painting from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Walk around, visit and observe as many as you like. Arrive between 10 a.m. and noon and you’ll be greeted by NPS rangers and staff with coffee, doughnuts, and maps. Afterward, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., the gallery will host a party and sale on its front porch on Groveland Terrace in Lowry Hill, behind the Walker. The whole day sounds delightful. FMI. Free.
Saturday outside the downtown Pizza Luce in Minneapolis: 2019 Pizza Lucé Block Party. A day of live music, local craft beer and pizza. In the lineup: Har Mar Superstar, Chastity Brown, and Erik Koskinen, who recently released his latest album, “Burning the Deal,” on Real Phonic Records/Tone Tree Music. It’s good listening wherever you are. Koskinen will take the stage at 3 p.m. See the whole music schedule here. 119 N. 4th St. Noon-10 p.m. Free.
Sunday at First Avenue: Kamasi Washington. His 2015 debut album, “The Epic,” made jazz cool again. Not that jazz wasn’t already cool, just that a lot of people were unaware it was cool. It didn’t hurt that Washington had worked with Kendrick Lamar on “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The Los Angeles-based saxophonist, composer and bandleader won the inaugural American Music Prize and was hailed as the savior of jazz. This will be his sixth time in the Twin Cities; he has played Icehouse, First Ave, 2018’s Rock the Garden and the Palace. He’ll return to First Ave’s mainroom for an evening of jazz his way. Washington is sandwiching this date between concerts in Chicago and Denver with jazz legend Herbie Hancock, with whom he’s on a co-headlined tour. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30 advance, $35 day of show).