The documentary Honeyland premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it was the most awarded film, winning the Grand Jury Prize, Special Jury Award for Impact for Change, and the Special Jury Award for Cinematography in the World Cinema Documentary competition. Since then, directors Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska have taken the film around the world, from Europe to India to Siberia to the South Pacific. They’ve also flown their lead subject, Macedonian beekeeper Hatidze Muratova, to screenings, including one in New York City where she sang to a delighted audience. Originally commissioned by an environmental group, the film evolved into something entirely different when the directors discovered Muratova, who lived in a rural village that had been essentially abandoned by the government, lacking electricity or running water. They followed Muratova for three years, working two or three days at a time until their camera batteries ran out.
Honeyland is now nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature (formerly Best Foreign Language Film). Documentaries have been nominated for Best International Feature only a handful of times before, and this is the first time ever that one film has been nominated for both these awards. We spoke with Stefanov, Kotevska, and Fejmi Daut, one of the film’s two cinematographers, the day after Honeyland was awarded Best Nonfiction Feature at the New York Film Critics Circle ceremony. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Hyperallergic: Your documentary premiered at Sundance last January. What has the year been like for you?
Tamara Kotevska: How can you plan for this? It’s like we’re in the army.
Ljubomir Stefanov: Our main income this year is from festival awards. We share this money equally. We chose festivals because, for example, we wanted to see India. Sometimes we could combine flights, so we could go from a festival in St. Petersburg to one in Irkutsk.
TK: The festival in New Caledonia, that’s the time we were both crying.
LS: It was in a village north of the island’s main city. The screenings were in a sort of communal space where they all cook and eat together.
TK: The festival organizer, who was half-French and half-indigenous, was telling us how there are 28 local languages for every tribe, and in none of them is there the word “I.” Doesn’t exist. They always speak with “us” or “we.” We heard that and turned to each other and were both crying. I think this is how they understood our film so well, because it’s about sharing and equal responsibilities.
LS: Traveling the world was one thing. It’s different in America. Since July, we’ve been here six or seven times, and it’s exhausting because you’re going from one screening to another all the time. We had a screening in Woodstock for one person.
TK: They took us in the morning in a big black limo, made that one voter happy.
H: Do people often ask why you didn’t help Hatidze?
LS: Yes, a lot of questions like that. Our answer is: You need to make a decision. Are you going to be a humanitarian organization or a filmmaker? We decided to be filmmakers, but also help them later. We changed Hatidze’s life.