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Historic ‘Honeyland’ Oscar Noms Prove Docs Shouldn’t Just Be Relegated to Doc Category

A documentary has never competed for Best International Film until now.

Honeyland

“Honeyland”

Neon

Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” has been Neon’s crown jewel this Oscar season (the film landed six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director), but a second Neon release has emerged as a game-changer at the 2020 Academy Awards. That would be “Honeyland,” Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov’s acclaimed documentary about one of the last nomadic beekeepers in Macedonia. “Honeyland” has written itself into the Oscar history books as the first non-fiction feature to land nominations for Best Documentary and Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film) in the same year. Prior to landing its historic two nominations, “Honeyland” was named the documentary masterpiece of Oscar season by IndieWire’s Chris O’Falt.

The double nomination for “Honeyland” is an impressive feat, but the surprise around it and the history-making factor is an important reminder that documentaries are often slighted at the Oscars by only being relegated to the Best Documentary race. In the 92-year history of the Academy Awards, a documentary has never received a Best Picture nomination. And to that we say: Why not? If the Academy views “Honeyland” as one of the five best documentaries and five best foreign films of the year, shouldn’t it have had serious buzz in the Best Picture race? By only recognizing non-fiction features in the Best Documentary category, the Academy perpetuates the belief that narrative films are superior to documentaries in terms of craft and production.

Documentary features long struggled to gain nominations outside of their sole non-fiction category. Steve James’ landmark “Hoop Dreams” was famously snubbed in the Best Documentary race, but it did manage to land one Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing. The nomination was warranted, as “Hoop Dreams” edited together 250 hours of footage shot over five years into a cohesive and stirring look at two high school basketball players who set out to make it into the NBA. If “Hoop Dreams” managed a Best Editing nom, there’s no reason a documentary like “Apollo 11” couldn’t at least have editing buzz in 2020. Director Todd Douglas Miller edited a 93-minute documentary out of 11,000 hours of footage to deliver one of cinema’s most intimate and gripping looks yet at the moon landing.

In a statement to IndieWire, “Honeyland” directors Kotevska and Stefanov celebrated their film’s historic double nomination by looking to a future where awards bodies focus on good storytelling over filmmaking styles.

“More than four years ago we started an adventure called ‘Honeyland,’ inspired by the simple words of wisdom shared with us by Atidze, an extraordinary woman who changed our lives: ‘Take half, leave half.’  We couldn’t have imagined then how far our message would reach,” the directors said. “There was no telling our film would make history. The history of our country, the history of the Oscar nominations, but most importantly for us as filmmakers is that we have officially erased the boundaries between documentary and fiction filmmaking. These two nominations are a clear statement for all future filmmakers — good storytelling is good storytelling…As filmmakers, we hope to keep making history and continue doing our part to make a better world.”

“Honeyland” is a historic moment for the Oscars, and one that proves that the more the Academy can blend together non-fiction features and fictional narratives across Oscar categories, the more it will do right by storytellers around the world.

“Honeyland” is now streaming on Hulu.

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