Watch out at the Oscars on Sunday for Hatidze Muratova. You can’t miss her. She will be the only Turkish-Macedonian peasant in the starry audience at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Until “Honeyland”-the “non-fiction masterpiece” in which the village beekeeper appears-won a record three awards at the Sundance film festival, Hatidze lived in a tiny mud and stone house without electricity and running water in the wilds of North Macedonia. Now it has become the first film ever to get Oscar nominations for both best documentary and best foreign language movie, Hatidze has become a full-blown celebrity who gets stopped in the street by Hollywood stars.
“Sarah Jessica Parker was very excited to meet her after seeing the film,” “Honeyland” producer Atanas Georgiev told AFP. Having lived 56 years quite happily without television, Hatidze wasn’t all that aware of “Sex and the City”, although she graciously told the star-struck actress’s fortune “by reading the coffee grains in bottom of her cup.” When Hatidze went for a dress fitting for the Oscars in the North Macedonian capital Skopje, it took “20 minutes for her to walk 200 metres because so many people wanted to have a selfie with her,” Georgiev revealed. “People love her. She has become a star. We have no option but to cope with it somehow,” said Georgiev, who also edited the film.
“Anthropologically, we were not supposed to do this,” Georgiev said of Hatidze’s Hollywood adventure, fearing she might be seen “as a lion in a cage… But there was big pressure from the public in Macedonia” for her to go to the Oscars. Indeed, the contrast could not be more stark to Hatidze’s solitary life in Bekirlija, where she tends her hives of wild bees, only ever taking half the honey so the bees would always have their due. She and her dying, half-blind mother, Nazife, were the last residents of the abandoned mountain village. Life was hard but peaceful in this forgotten corner of the Balkans.
That is until their nomadic neighbors, Hussein and Ljutvie Sam, moved in with their unruly herd of children, cows and chickens. The story that unfolds in “Honeyland” is such a perfect parable of our times as we fret over the planet, that the New York Times declared it “the best movie of the year”. With eight hungry mouths to feed, Hussein tries his hand at honey. But under pressure to produce more from a local merchant, he breaks Hatidze’s golden rule of leaving half for the bees, with disastrous consequences for everyone.
Critic A.O. Scott hailed “Honeyland” as “nothing less than a found epic, a real-life environmental allegory and a stinging comedy about the age-old problem of inconsiderate neighbours.” Georgiev said it didn’t quite fall so easily from the sky. The shoot lasted three years, with co-directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov camping in the village with their cameramen until their batteries would run out-since there was no electricity for miles. Because the crew couldn’t understand the old Ottoman Turkish dialect she spoke to her mother, Georgiev did the first rough edit on mute.
Always half for the bees
“We were doing it by instinct, and then as soon as we got the translations the plot was all there. It was amazing,” he said. Georgiev realized they had something way beyond a morality tale about capitalism on their hands. The eureka moment was when “Hatidze talked about half the honey being for the bees and half for her. This was the most powerful sentence,” he said. “The mother and daughter story is so beautiful and almost mythological, but with the honey, there is conflict, capitalism and consumerism. It really says something important about the world,” he added.
From the start, Georgiev said they were very aware about their responsibilities to their subjects and the eco-system-both natural and human-that they come from. They have since helped set Hatidze up in a new winter home close to her relatives in the “nearest village to civilization”. A “Honeyland” foundation for her, the Sam family and the wider community, is up and running, with internet donors getting some of their wild “bio honey” in the post. Not that Hatidze is a rustic yokel.
“She is sharp, very intelligent and speaks four languages from different language groups-Turkish, Macedonian, Albanian and Vlach (Aromanian),” Georgiev said. Georgiev puts much of the film’s phenomenal success down to Hatidze’s “wonderful heart”. But he thinks there was other magic also at work from her late mother, the “queen bee” of the piece. “I think she put a spell on us all, so that we would look after her daughter when she was gone,” he said. – AFP