/ 5 September 2019

Week of the Festival: Struga, Macedonia

The Bitter Taste in the Mouth After the Film ‘Honeyland’

The world economy consumes the resources of 1.5 planets, on average. 66 million children attend classes while hungry across the developing world, while one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Where did we go wrong?

From an early age, we are taught that personal, Machiavellian success is the most important thing in life and that wealth is social heroism. Each morning the capitalist mantra keeps repeating: More, more...while consumerist stories and commodity fetishism are the responsible for our insufficiency. Money becomes our aphrodisiac and material possession compensates for our sexual libido. The ego conquers the paradise zone of illusory freedom, bought exclusively from the shopping malls and supermarkets. I SpendTherefore I Am! – That’s the motto of our new identity. In this Kunderian ‘unbearable lightness of being’, space for critical thinking is pushed to the margins. In this consumerist slavery, we become machines of desire – to be younger and more beautiful, to have an expensive car, branded clothing, thousands of TV channels... Marshall McLuhan wrote that ‘the advertising world sells anything to society as if it were classless and evokes an ideal world free from any tragedy, without underdeveloped countries, without nuclear bombs, optimistic and paradisiacal’. But are we aware that, in this post-industrial era, technologically-sophisticated and emotionally-degraded, decadent with greed and inert with laziness, the only way to withstand the consumerist evil that destroys our only home, planet Earth, is by deeds. By setting a personal example. Bravely to poke injustice in the eye. Everyone should start with themselves. The individual effort is very important and, therefore, writingabout Hatidze, the main protagonist in Honeyland, I would try to address the questions of individual power and responsibility in saving our planet Earth. Is the new revolution primarily the evolution of consciousness of the individual?  

Honeyland was a Sundance winner and Macedonian Oscar nominee in Best Foreign Film category for 2020,a film that won many awards at numerous international film festivalsand has won the hearts of the critics.The documentary is poetry framed on film. It is nature’s scream through the lives of few humble and poor people (Hatidze and her neighbours, the Sam family). This documentary feature is produced by Apollo Media and Tris Films, realised as part of the Macedonia Nature Conservation Program – a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), supported by North Macedonia Film Agency. The music in the film is by the band Foltin and it is beautiful. Every sound and every message in Honeylandis in harmony with nature. Through the main protagonist, Hatidze, the last wild bee keeper in Europe who lives alone with her mother in the village of Bekirlija in central Macedonia, Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov – the authors of Honeyland, tackle the problem of the inherent connection of humans with nature and their greed and excessive use of resources that disrupt the natural balance. The authors are telling us that, in a simple way, Hatidze reminds us of what we have forgotten – that we are dependent on nature and vice versa. Therefore, we need to give back half of the resources it gives us (as Hatidze does with honey), so that it can be restored and there remains enough for everyone. This is the basic rule of sustainability: ‘Take half, leave half’. Which reminds me of our grandparents, who used to produce only as much as necessary. 

Nowadays, we are insatiable. Our lives are reflected in petty things, from the dandruff in our hair to saggy breasts to the ideal body and similar artificially-inflated consumer needs, rather than caring for nature and our planet. The preoccupation with ourselves, as well as the absence of solidarity and public interest in the common collective good, are part of the life pattern that ignores real environmental problems. You probably remember the Marxist statement: ‘Hitherto, philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point, however, it is time tochangeit’. Indeed, the time of great revolutions may have passed, but the need for an eco-revolution as a system turnover remains, especially today, when nature’s alarm rings loudly. For example, less than three percent of Earth's water is fresh water. Of that, only about 1.2 percentcan be used as drinking water. Be that as it may, we are stubbornly and selfishly polluting the drinking water with plastic and waste. 

Do we even think of our children and grandchildren? Are we brought to our senses by this call for an ethical approach to consumption, the worldwide zero waste movement and even the global goals for sustainable development? Should Hatidze have taught us a lesson on the importance of living in accordance with nature? Honeylandsends a powerful message about the need for change. 

In addition to the anti-consumeristand ecological slap in the face, the film has also brought great artistic value and recognition to Macedonian cinematography. It is the first documentary feature in the history of the Sundance Festival that won three awards. But the members of the Honeylandcrew are not consumed with their fame. As to the process of work, as well as the process of awakening, director Kotevska would say: ‘If we compare the making of a documentary with collecting honey – because documentary filmmakers are undisputed ”collectors” of human stories from real life, and their existence and fame depends directly on the fruits of others’ life stories - then one can easily understand why making documentaries is considered a very ungrateful profession - authors come and they take what they need and leave, while the protagonists have to live with the consequences of that film for their whole lives. Realising this, we decided to apply the rule that Hatidze had taught us, so we didn’t allow ourselves to take the full benefit from this fascinating story. Quite to the contrary, we want to leave them half’. That's why, after filming, they helped Hatidze solve her existential problem and bought her a house in the neighbouring village of Dorfulia, where she’ll enjoy basic living conditions. Besides Tamara Kotevska, other members of the team, including co-director Ljubomir Stefanov, producer and editor Atanas Georiev, as well as two cinematographers, Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, are part of the campaign to buy honey via the film’s site, Through this, money is raised for the education of the eight children of the Sam family, the other protagonists in this documentary, who are living in poverty. Another wonderful, humane gesture is that, after the shooting was over, the team gave them their official car as a gift. 

After watching Honeyland, you may have a bittersweet taste in your mouth. The bitterness is from the sadness and empathy for the poor, marginalised people and the disappointment of mankind, while the sweetness is for hope. The film had its premiere in Skopje at ‘MakeDox’, a Creative Documentary Film Festival, on August 28. I would like to believe that those who saw the film felt the same way I did - a mixture of disgust from the greed of our technological, consumerist civilisation and the need to react with nature conservation. 

So, instead of waiting for the changes to come from the institutions and the system, while we are comfortably seated in our armchairs, from which it’s easier to criticise and vent frustrations (whether through the TV remote or the computer keyboard), dispelling all the evil into the virtual world, pretending to be ‘keyboard revolutionaries’, I suggest we start acting on it – here and now! Set a personal, positive example of solidarity and communion with and towards nature. To become ‘responsibly anarchic’, as Jacques Derrida puts it, every morning, every day, every moment, because these kind of people give us hope that there’s still a Don Quixote in each of us. Hatidze is the Macedonian heroine of modern times. 

By Irena S. Hristov, freelance writer, poet and a public relations specialist. She has built her career working specifically within international development organizations (USAID, United Nations, British Council, European Union) with professional focus on strategic communications, advocacy and grass-root outreach in the areas of socio-economic development, institutional building, government relations and diplomacy, and cultural management. She was engaged as a Festival Coordinator of Skopje Cinema City – Festival of Music Documentaries, as well as Skopje Jazz Festival. She also served as a Public Relations Advisor to the President of Macedonia.

Edited by Ana Jovkovska