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Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska • Directors of Honeyland

“A moving human story, with an important environmental message”


- Macedonia's Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, who are visiting the 4th Nuoro IsReal Festival, spoke to us about their documentary Honeyland which triumphed at Sundance

Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska • Directors of Honeyland

“Take half and leave half”: This is the advice on how to live in harmony with nature as delivered by beekeeper Hatidze, the extraordinary protagonist featured in the documentary by the Macedonian duo Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, Honeyland [+see also:
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. Scooping the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival 2019, the film is now embarking on a worldwide tour. We managed to catch up with the directors during the Italian stage of its journey, at the 4th IsReal - Festival di cinema del reale di Nuoro (7-12 May).

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Cineuropa: Your film was very warmly received by the audience in Nuoro. Generally speaking, do you find that people are more receptive to environmental topics at this particular moment in time?
Tamara Kotevska:
I think the film was well-suited to the concept of this festival. When the director Alessandro Stellino explained to us that the festival takes place in just one setting because people in the area like it that way, I thought: that’s the fundamental principle of our film! Why do more and risk disrupting the equilibrium? Here, people have exactly what they need. The film is an honest mirror of how we live and the mistakes we make.

Ljubomir Stefanov: This film is a very moving, human story, but it also carries an important environmental message. We read so many things about the environment, especially online. It shocks you, but you immediately move on to something else. The message in our film is strong and clear because it’s symbolic. It can be reduced to one word: greed. We are making excessive use of natural resources; the principle of fair and equitable sharing is fundamental.

How did this three-year adventure with the film’s protagonist, Hatidze, begin?
TK: When we met this woman, it changed all our plans. Initially, we were supposed to make a short documentary in the Bregalnica river region. This particular river is interesting because it changes its natural course every ten years or so, and the villages around it move accordingly. We made contact with various farmers, but when we met Hatidze we decided to stay with her, because it was important to us that her story was told. Her story is also the story of a life lived according to one of the traditions of this Turkish minority, living in Macedonia: the last daughter is expected to take care of her parents; she can’t marry and have a family of her own while her parents are still living.

You filmed moments of great intimacy between the mother and her daughter. Did you ever wonder whether you should turn the camera off, such as when the mother died, for example?
We couldn’t predict her mother was going to die, but we knew that it would be the logical conclusion to this story in that particular village, because from that moment on, Hatidze’s life would change dramatically. It turned out that it happened during filming. It’s the end of an era. We don’t show where Hatidze goes afterwards, but we know that she’s finally free to live her life.

LS: We spent a lot of time with them; we covered all of their daily life. The film includes six or seven scenes between the mother and daughter, but we had over 25 and they were all very powerful. We were a small team: two directors, two directors of photography, one editor and one sound engineer. We slept in tents, we ate all together, along with Hatidze: we were a very united group.

The film is an observational documentary, but it’s also very lively. At times, it feels like a fiction film, especially when the other family arrives in the village. How did you achieve this?
From the very beginning, we wanted the story to feel like fiction, even if it wasn’t. In our minds, the line between documentary and fiction should disappear, a good story is a good story. I was more focused on the people, Ljubomir on the environmental issues. We were always interested in maintaining a perfect balance between the human story and the environmental side. We didn’t want to make a stereotypical documentary with a narrating voice, with interviews etc. We committed to carry on filming until we were sure we had the right amount of material to develop the dramaturgical aspects of the story.

How does Hatidze live today? You bought her a house with the prizemoney you won at the Sarajevo FF – is that right?
As a rule, documentary protagonists aren’t paid. But when someone opens up their life to you, you have to give something back; it’s the least you can do.

TK: We spoke a lot about what we could do for her, so we helped her go back to the village where her other relations live. But she says human relationships are the biggest reward to have come out of all this. There’s a journalist in London who saw the film; he was struck by her story and flew to Macedonia to talk to her. Hatidze loves to be among people. She’s suffered from loneliness a lot in her life and now she sees us all as one big family.

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(Translated from Italian)

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