I have been seeing a lot of new films recently — some in film theaters and most on screeners streamed to me.

One of the better ones I watched on my computer was “Hive,” a triple Sundance award-winner that opened Nov. 5 at the Film Forum on West Houston Street in New York.


In a world where ethnic massacres are a commonplace, it may be hard to remember that more than 20 years ago, the Kosovo war with Serbia and Montenegro left 12,000 dead and more than 3,000 missing, mainly Kosovar Albanians. “Hive” centers on Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) who, like many of the other women in her patriarchal Kosovar village, had lived with diminishing hope and overwhelming sorrow that her missing husband will ever return from that war.

Though still an integral part of the village’s extremely traditional ethos, Fahrije, a very determined uneducated countrywoman, begins to powerfully assert herself and make independent choices. Her only way to make a living has been to tend to her husband’s beehives that provide an insufficient financial return and require a constant wariness of being stung by the bees she tends. Consequently, she attempts to pull the other village women together to sell homemade hot pepper sauce. She faces opposition from her wheelchair-bound father-in-law who tells her, “You have to know your place in the family.” But she is able to counter saying, “I can’t rely on you, father.” Her daughter and son also voice antagonism to her break from village norms, and she faces a great deal of resistance from the men in the village, who are opposed to women driving, let alone opening a business. They angrily break her car window, but she does not allow that to stop her. Still, except for one outspoken, unconventional older woman, Naza, the other women are hesitant to join her in the venture, fearing they would face nasty gossip from their fellow villagers.

The director of “Hive” uses handheld shots and close-ups of Fahrije’s very strong and granite-like face, and avoids any melodramatic moments. He also stays with the external story, rather than truly exploring Fahrije’s internal conflicts and emotional state. The film is bound by the quotidian — Fahrjie making hot pepper sauce, selling it to the manager of a city supermarket, interacting with her children and the other women who ultimately join her and help in making the sauce.

This realist and feminist film is a touch predictable, with the women creating a feeling of solidarity between them by its conclusion. They even do a folk dance to celebrate their unity. However, the film is a tightly shaped, sometimes luminous tale of a woman’s survival and triumph in a society that has always seen women as subordinate.

‘The Art of Making It’

Kelcey Edwards’ “The Art of Making It” is showing in the DOC NYC that was inaugurated in 2010 and by 2014 became America’s largest documentary film festival. It’s an eight-day festival that screens in the Village’s IFC and other Manhattan theaters along with panels and conversations with the directors. The film follows a diverse group of up-and-coming artists at defining moments of their careers, as well as talking to critics, collectors, professors and curators. It takes a look at whether institutions like university MFA programs (Yale) that are intended to shape young talented artists fail many of them instead. It also repeatedly demonstrates how money talks in the art world, where dealers and wealthy collectors have power, and can make and break an artist’s career. The collectors also sit on the boards of big museums, and much of institutional power in the art world is interconnected, and is totally unregulated — a world dominated by sharks. The museums themselves only receive 15 percent of their operating costs from the government — the rest comes from donors and foundations.

The film centers on a number of painters. One of them is the Hispanic “Dreamer” and DACA recipient Felipe Baeza, whose paintings and printmaking center on migration, displacement and self-examination. Another is Jenna Gribbon, who has gained much success, painting mostly figuratively from memory, art history and contemporary life. Her paintings are lush, and seek intimacy and also empathy with her subject. The painter who receives the most footage — the articulate and reflective Chris Watts — was dismissed from the MFA program at Yale University. However, he continued on as an abstract painter who painted on soft and sheer textiles and “captivated“ the film’s director.

Edwards’ film embraces art and artists, and understands their desperation in an ultra-competitive, rapacious world where out of the many artists produced by art schools only a few ever succeed. Despite the odious, profit-obsessed aspects of the art world, which the film doesn’t shy away from, Edwards views the film as a “love letter to the art world, and reminds people why art matters.”

It matters because art is about asking questions — with “each artist creating a space to have a dialogue in a deeply personal way” — and can be larger than one’s life. Edwards’ film perceptively illuminates both the dynamics of the art world, and the artistic process itself.

Leonard Quart can be reached at CinWrit@aol.com.