Paula Haller swears she doesn’t go looking for Oscar nominees when acquiring films for the DocuTime Film Festival. “No, not at all,” the curator says. “I’ve missed as many as I’ve picked up.” Yet, Haller’s one-day film festival, now in its 18th year, has gained a reputation for bringing acclaimed documentaries to our port city.
DocuTime has screened a number of high-profile films over the years, including “Faces Places” (2018), winner of best documentary at the Cannes Film Festival, and “Itzhak” (2019), nominated for Best Music Film at the Grammys. In 2020 the prestige pick is “Honeyland,” directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s fascinating portrait of wild beekeeping in Macedonia. The documentary received two Academy Award nominations last week—for best foreign-language film and best documentary feature—and was named New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s favorite film of 2019. It will screen in UNCW’s King Hall Auditorium on Saturday morning as part of an all-day marathon featuring three feature documentaries and eight shorts.
Filmed over three years in the Republic of North Macedonia, “Honeyland” follows Hatidze Muratova, the last female wild beekeeper in Europe. As one of two permanent residents in her hamlet, Hatidze earns a modest living by sustainably farming honey to be sold in Macedonia’s capital—a mere four hours away by foot. Early in the film, she is shown bouncing between her bedridden mother, Nazife, and her bees, with whom she shares an almost telepathic bond. When a nomadic family moves in next door, bringing with them chickens, cows and seven noisy children, the area’s careful balance is thrown into disarray.
Haller saw the film last summer and knew she had to have it right away. “I was totally transported,” she says. “I thought, I know nothing about this. And when [the film] ended, I felt I had learned a whole new culture.”
DocuTime’s founder is worthy of her own documentary. The octogenarian spent years making documentaries around the globe and helped found the International Documentary Association in Los Angeles when she realized documentary filmmakers in town for the Oscars weren’t being feted in the same way their well-known brethren were. She moved to Wilmington on a whim 25 years ago after seeing the town’s name in the byline of articles about actor Brandon Lee, who was accidentally shot and killed while filming “The Crow” at Carolco Studios (now EUE/Screen Gems). “I simply called the travel agent, as you did in those days, and asked how you get to Wilmington,” Haller recalls.
Eventually, she began DocuTime—first in the screening room at Screen Gems, and later in the 180-seat King Hall Auditorium, home to UNCW’s Film Studies Department.
Haller estimates she watches at least 60 to 70 documentaries each year to create the festival’s lineup. Some entries, like “Honeyland,” arrive at her doorstep with pre-existing buzz. Others, like a short film about local artist Elizabeth Darrow, arrive via serendipity. Haller was picking up a painting at the downtown gallery Art in Bloom earlier this year when she struck up a conversation with the film’s director: “She said, ‘Hi, I’m Christina Capra,’ and I said, ‘I knew you as a little girl!”
Haller knew Capra’s father, film and television producer Frank Capra Jr., from his work as the president of EUE/Screen Gems and as a member of the North Carolina Film Council. (Capra’s grandfather is the legendary filmmaker Frank Capra, best known for directing “It Happened One Night,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)
“Elizabeth Darrow: Believing in the Process,” will screen Saturday as part of the shorts program.
Here is a look at the full schedule for DocuTime’s Saturday event:
9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Sun Dancer (A Brief Introduction)
Dance: Helen Mirkil, Video: Bumpacam Productions
The day begins with a simple meditation, created by local artist couple Brian H. Peterson and Helen Mirkil. “It’s very simple, but just right for 9:30 in the morning to kick things off,” Haller says.
Honeyland (90 min., Republic of Macdonia)
Directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov
11:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Among the nine entries that comprise the shorts segment are “That Is How The Rivers Came To Be,” director Miguel Araoz’s animated film depicting the creation of the Amazon’s rivers; “Moments of Truth,” a 10-minute montage featuring over 125 moments from the past 100 years of documentary filmmaking; and “Cricket Liu,” about the ancient Chinese custom of cricket fighting. Says Haller, “I want people to know what the old culture was like.”
1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. LUNCH BREAK
1:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Our Time Machine (86 minutes, China)
Directed by S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun
Chiang and Sun’s touching documentary chronicles a well-known Shanghai performance artist as he races to stage an autobiographical play about time and memory before his father succumbs to Alzheimer’s. It’s a touching statement about father-son relationships that also explore the Cultural Revolution and the cost of choosing a life in the arts.
3:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.
David Crosby: Remember My Name (96 minutes, USA)
Directed by A.J. Eaton
The closing film, produced by Cameron Crowe, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. At 77, musician David Crosby is sick and tired of being sick and tired—the result of years of drug abuse and hard living. Instead of plunging into self-pity, he’s desperate to make amends with those he hurt and alienated along the way. Crosby is a charismatic and candid subject, and Crowe and Eaton help tell his story with the unflinching honesty it deserves.