YES Programs



From Chattanooga to the Oscars

A beekeeper wearing protective head gear, crouching down and holding a bee's nest. Bees are flying all around.

The YES alumni community is buzzing over the news that a YES alumna made Oscars history this week with two Academy Award nominations for her film, Honeyland.

Tamara Kotevska (YES 2010-2011, North Macedonia, hosted by PAX in Chattanooga, TN) co-directed the film Honeyland along with Ljubomir Stefanov. The documentary is the first film ever to be nominated for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. It was also the most awarded film at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. 

A group of people, children and adults, gathered around looking at something on a phone.

When they started filming what would become Honeyland, their goal wasn’t a full-length film. It started off as a short video commissioned by the Nature Conservation Project in North Macedonia to increase awareness on biodiversity and sustainability. However, the story captivated Tamara and Ljubomir and took on a life of its own. 

Filmed over three years, Honeyland tells the story of the last female European wild bee catcher, Hatidze Muratova, and her struggle to protect her livelihood upon the arrival of troublesome nomadic neighbors in her remote mountain village of Bekirlijia.

Tamara’s cultural exchange experience on the YES program played a big role in her interest in filmmaking and becoming a documentarian. In an interview with the U.S. Embassy in North Macedonia (video above), Tamara shared that YES started it all. 

“I can say that my life journey started with the Youth Exchange and Study Program when I was 16 and went to live one year in Tennessee,” she said. “I wanted to do films even before, but in Tennessee, seeing a completely different culture from mine brought me to the idea that I want to do documentaries because I just want to make stories about the real world and the real people.”

YES student, Tamara, at a baseball game with her host brother.
Tamara and host brother at a baseball game

Ten years later, Tamara is still close with her host family, who now live in Oregon. She visited them in April 2019. Her host mom, Jenifer, still has an album of photos from Tamara’s first days in the U.S., including one picture of the family crowded around a laptop screen watching movie trailers together.

Though her time in Chattanooga with YES helped inspire her, Tamara’s work on Honeyland was ultimately grounded in a deep sense of pride in her home country. One of the goals of the film was to highlight all that North Macedonia has to offer, from the vastly unknown places of beauty to the abundant natural resources.

“I travel a lot. No matter how far and how long I go…I always come back,” Tamara said of her home country. “This is the place where I want to build myself, and build my stories, and where I want to live.”

Tamara standing with two alumni wearing feathered masks over their eyes.
Smiles Beneath the Masks - a YES alumni project organized by Tamara

As a YES alumna, Tamara put her early filmmaking skills to practice by producing a welcome video for new alumni. She also organized a Halloween-themed fundraiser called Smiles Beneath the Masks for a boy with autism, earning the attention of Macedonian basketball player Ivica Dimcheski, who later visited with the boy. Although Honeyland’s success leaves her little time for alumni projects these days, Tamara says she still follows the happenings of the YES program on social media and through YES Alumni Coordinator communications. She says she looks forward to lending her creative talents to the alumni community. Perhaps when she does, she will be able to share her experience as an Oscar winner.

The Academy Awards Ceremony will be held on Feb. 9, 2020. In the meantime, you can watch Honeyland on Hulu!