Tamara Kotevska had a plan. She and co-director Ljubo Stefanov were going to create a documentary about a river in central Macedonia. But during the two-month initial research, they made a curious discovery: handmade beehives tucked inside rocks. Through interviews with residents, they located the bees’ caretaker, a local woman named Hatidze Muratova.
And just like that, the project shifted course.
The result is Honeyland, a visually stunning, narratively rich and deeply personal film that wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for Kotevska’s fearless willingness to let the project take its own shape. The most awarded film at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Honeyland was the first movie to be nominated for both best documentary and best international feature, at the 2020 Academy Awards.
For three years, Kotevska and her team of five quietly immersed themselves in beekeeper Muratova’s universe, setting up camp in her backyard. Because the remote mountain village lacked electricity, running water and formal roads, the crew would shoot in sessions of a few days, bringing along food and batteries to carry them through.
After six months of filming, a new set of characters arrived: a family of nine that began to infringe on Muratova, her bees, her business and her way of life. The plot twist was a make-or-break moment for Kotevska’s team. It took six months, but she and the crew managed to establish a relationship with the new family members and incorporated them into the project.
It wasn’t the first (or the last) change that forced a certain flexibility.
The film’s protagonists all spoke an archaic dialect of Turkish, which no one on Kotevska’s team understood. While the film crew could communicate with them in Macedonian, Kotevska opted for filming in their native language, hyperfocused on capturing visual cues and body language. Afterward, her crew spent roughly three months watching the 400 hours of footage it had amassed and began editing with the footage on mute. Only then did translators work on the dialogue. Finally, the two elements came together in one cohesive story.