‘THE HONEY MAKERS’

Film explores the meaning of place, belonging | Port Townsend Film Festival

Laura Jean Schneider ljschneider@ptleader.com
Posted 9/25/21

 

Imagine you have 12 minutes to address racism, immigration, and the unapologetic ways of Mother Nature.

Director Jeneffa Soldatic pulls this off in “The Honey Makers,” a …

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‘THE HONEY MAKERS’

Film explores the meaning of place, belonging | Port Townsend Film Festival

Posted

 

Imagine you have 12 minutes to address racism, immigration, and the unapologetic ways of Mother Nature.

Director Jeneffa Soldatic pulls this off in “The Honey Makers,” a short film based on a play by Deborah Grimberg.

The two met in graduate school; later, Soldatic fell for Grimberg’s play.

“She says so much with so little words,” Soldatic marveled.

During a recent telephone conversation with the director, she sounded buoyant. In the background, she seemed to be at work in the kitchen, perhaps putting dishes away, or folding laundry as she talked.

Shot in London during just two days, “The Honey Makers” is spare on actors — seven in total — but not on talent.

“It was magic timing, a magic cast,” Soldatic said.

On her way to meet with actor Kane Surry, who plays “Dave,” the head of a gang of skinheads that torment a pair of South Asian refugees in the film, Soldatic braced herself. Based in the U.S., she’d only seen an audition video, and what she saw left an impression.

“Oh my God; this guy is so scary,” she remembers thinking.

“I must have had a frightened look on my face,” she said, laughing, when they saw each other face to face in London. Now, she describes Surry as “bubbly,” a person directly opposite of his character.

Ironically, the message that first impressions can be one dimensional, or assumptive, is a topic that the film addresses.

Soldatic is Australian and Croatian; her father immigrated from the former Yugoslavia. She grew up as a bit of an outsider in Australia, and it’s here, in the outsider looking to share stories, that one can feel Soldatic’s strength directing a ripple of cinematic tension as the narrative unfolds.

The sting of discomfort upsets Arjun (Anil Goutnam) and his wife Lalita (Nila Aalia), refugees from Uganda, from two sides: Sandwiched between a persistent hive of bees in the backyard, and skinheads in front of their store, the situation escalates. Who deserves to be where? What do assumptions tell us? What does it mean to “be home?”

“Everyone on the film had a story of their own to link to this story,” Soldatic said.

And that didn’t stop with the actors.

Entranced by the story, London Bee Company donated the use of 17,000 bees.

“They’re really amazing animals,” Soldatic said, and added, “They are the original migrants, the original nomads.”

During a critical scene with actors packed tight into the tiny storefront, the smoke machine Soldatic was depending on for ambiance broke.

“The bees just calmed everyone down,” she said, in awe.

The scene where Arthur the beekeeper (Finbar Lynch) dances with the bees was actually as drama-free and magical as it looks on film. All those bees, not a single sting.

The entire film was edited in under four days in London by Pani Scott, who has worked on films such as “The Queen,” and “News of the World.”

Absolute Post, a post-production studio with clients like Dove, Adidas, and Pepsi, was so moved by the story that they did all of the color grading gratis.

The resulting film is cinematic excellence, confirmed by an impressive, ongoing, collection of awards. After its release in 2020, “The Honey Makers” won Best Short at Fort Lauderdale Film Festival;  Best International Short Film at Mystic Film Festival; and Best Cinematography from Global Impact Film Festival.

Lockdown, USA, was a weird time to release a film, Soldatic said. The initial response gave a nod to the quality of the film, but it was the perfect storm of COVID on the heels of Black Lives Matter that launched the short into a different dimension.

“It’s a film about everybody wanting a safe home,” she said, echoing Grimberg’s original vision.

Celebrating all the of accolades has been rewarding, she said, and she’s immensely proud of her cast and crew. But Soldatic is looking forward to seeing “The Honey Makers” on the big screen someday.

“We never got to see it as a cast and crew in London,” she said, and every single festival since has been online.

This year, the sweetness keeps coming as “The Honey Makers” has snagged Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Male Actor (Anil Goutam) at Manhattan Rep’s Stories Film Festival.

“The Honey Makers” has also been an official selection at seven film international festivals in addition to Port Townsend’s.

“We were so honored to get accepted there,” she said of the local film fest.

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