Top 20 Films of 2019: #12- Honeyland | Carnivorous Studios

Round 6, Pick 7, March 21 Lisa “Honeyland” Category: Documentary.

“Take half, leave half.” –

Hatidze Muratova, Bee Hunter

I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries over the years, but instead of reaching for one of those I decided to do a google search for one I hadn’t seen that sounded intriguing. “Honeyland,” released in 2019, was available through the library. After watching it I knew I wanted to choose it to review.

Set in the Republic of North Macedonia, in the rural village of Bekirlijia, some 55 km southeast of North Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje. The languages spoken in it are Turkish, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Serbo-Croatian. The film crew spent thr ee years there filming.

“Honeyland” tells the story of Hatidze Muratova, known as, “the last female bee-hunter in Europe.” Hatidze lives with her old and ill mother, Nazife, in a small, stone one-room

structure that doesn’t have much more in it than a bed for her mother, a small cookstove, and a window that looks like it remains open year-round, even when it snows. They have a medium-sized whippet-looking dog and a couple of scroungy cats that live with them. Hatidze has never married and has no children. In the telling of the story it is learned that during the time suitors were coming, Hatidze’s father sent them all away.

Nazife is bedridden and doesn’t go outside anymore. One of her eyes is seriously messed up and is kept covered much of the time. A fan is given for her at the market by one of the vendors to help her keep the flies away from her eye.

What is striking about the “village” they live in is that it is full of abandoned stone structures, walls, where they are the only people left. The town where she goes to trade is some distance away and involves walking to where a bus stops and she can ride in.

Hatidze’s skill is bee-hunter and dare I say bee farmer. She walks everywhere, to her hidden places where the bees are busy at work. She places old dung in nooks and crannies in the hills and rocks then covers them up. She has hive-shaped structures that she uses to transport hives from place to place. When the time is right, she harvests the honey, always taking only half. There is a waterway/pond/lake nearby so water is available. What is amazing is there appears to be little available vegetation for the bees to collect pollen from to make all of the honey they make. Hatidze is not only a bee farmer but she is a bee whisperer. The bees know her and are never alarmed when she approaches them.

It’s a simple life. It’s a rough life. But it is in balance. That is until a caravan of vehicles and travel trailers arrives with a husband and wife, Hussein and Ljutvie Sam and their passel of kids, along with a herd of cattle and some pitiful looking cats. They set up their camp very close to Hatidze and Nazife’s place. The family is doing its best to survive but their way of living is disorganized and chaotic. The children are good kids but are pretty much allowed to go feral. The family is abusive and neglectful to their animals. Hussein’s conversations with Hatidze reveal that she is a bee-hunter and she makes the mistake of showing Hussein one of her hives. Immediately he sees dollar signs and finds a way to buy bee-keeping boxes. He becomes deaf to Hatidze’s advice, and when a pushy relative comes to visit and demands more honey than he can afford to take from his hives to pay off debts, disaster strikes.

The Sam Family

image link: https://theartsdesk.com/node/83861/view

As I was reading comments on the movie, one person said that people frequently identify with either Hatidze’s perspective or with the Sam Family’s perspective. Things are rarely that clear cut, and I can see where both sides are coming from.

Things I like about the movie are that it profiles one extraordinary woman’s life journey and how she survives in the most inhospitable environment by respecting its ways and living in harmony with it. I really like the relationship and conversations between Hatidze and her mother and how she cares for her mother at the end of her mother’s life cycle.

Things I didn’t like about the movie is the rough and neglectful way the parents were with their children and as a result the rough and neglectful way the children were with their animals. There are a few difficult scenes to watch and at one point I turned it off. It took me a day to go back to it as I needed to know what happened.

Lessons: when I think I have it rough, I will remember how tough the families in “Honeyland” have it and consider myself blessed. On the other hand to live free, off the grid, and as one with nature does have its allure.

Awards information: 37 wins and 51 nominations

Rating from 1 – 10: 8


I really wanted to know what happened to Hatidze after the filming ended. Per imdb: Hatidze [now] lives in a village that is close to her brother relatives. She wanted to live in the nearby village so she could still tend to her bees and have a warm place to live during the winter. The home she lives in was purchased for her by the documentary filmmakers after they won their first award at the Sarajevo film festival.


  1. sounds like a below-the-radar winner. Interesting story for sure, though not sure I’d want to see it with all those bees and scenes of animal abuse. Must be eye-openning about how other parts of the world live though. Interesting aside- my mom said some relative (I think it was an aunt of hers) was believed by many of the locals in the Welsh village to have been a witch, and she could “charm” most wild animals including bees. She’d pick big bumblebee type insects up, stroke them and talk to them without being stung. That didn’t pass over to my Mom… she nearly died of a bee sting and was deathly afraid of them, which has somewhat carried over to me (the allergy and the fear of them, although I’m ok with bumblebees , giving them a wide berth but not being overly concerned by them outside.)

    • Fascinating, Dave. I love the idea of charming creatures. If you become one with nature I imagine they regard you as part of the scenery. The lifestyles are radically different as far as the constraints of the terrain but human nature transcends any environment so it felt familiar as well. I love the lady though who is the bee whisperer. I admire her more than words can say.

    • I think you’re right with the “one with nature” bit… most animals seem to be able to discern harmful humans vs peaceful ones, I think, to some degree. I have a pretty good ability to be ignored by a lot of usually skittish birds, and cats no matter how “Anti social” the individual one is supposed to be, usually come to me. But it doesn’t extend to many other animals, or insects!
      She sounds like a fine woman and one who’s content with her own lifestyle.

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  3. It does look interesting that is for sure. “The bees know her and are never alarmed when she approaches them.” Now that is nothing short of amazing. I’m glad the film makers helped her.

  4. I would agree that, the scenes of animal abuse and child neglect/roughness would disturb me, too.

    That being said, to watch someone live in balance with nature is a beautiful thing to behold. So few do it, myself included. I was just reading, earlier, about the African Hadza tribe:

    Glad to know that she still “whispers to her bees” and has shelter. This is intriguing. Thanks for the intro and suggestion. I am keeping track of what everyone posts.

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