April 21, 2011

Documentary Illuminates Imminent Bee Crisis

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Remember those “sciency” educational videos teachers would make us watch when we were in grade school? As I sat down to watch Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?, I expected nothing more than a film that resembled these blessed videos which I dreaded throughout my childhood. It was my curiosity for the film that kept me resolute in my decision to watch it. Nonetheless, I could not entertain the idea of liking the film to the point that I would tell people to go and watch it. I was pretty sure this was not that type of film. Well, this is me saying I was wrong.

There is a particular feeling that comes along with liking a film more than expected; it’s a rare feeling that reminds you of why you love cinema. I always hope for this feeling whenever I’m about to watch a new film. This is the feeling I got after watching Taggart Siegel’s Queen of the Sun. The film, directed and co-produced by Siegel, explores possible causes and consequences of the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

Colony collapse disorder is the name scientists have given to the strange mass disappearances of Western honey bee colonies. Although bee colonies have been known to disappear or die off inexplicably in the past, it was only recently that  these disappearances reached an alarming number, without evident cause. Throughout the 1990s, bee colony losses were pretty stable and bees were far away from extinction, giving beekeepers nothing to worry about. The term ‘colony collapse disorder’ began to be used around the year 2006, when apiculturists across the nation and around the world began to report heavy losses. This was also the year An Inconvenient Truth was released and the “green” movement was taking off. Colony collapse disorder may not sound like much, compared to the controversial concept of global climate change, but the truth is that it could affect humanity just as much if colonies keep disappearing. Honey bees, after all, are responsible for the pollination (and therefore survival) of a vast amount of crops. If bees died off and there were no way to replace them, we would face a major food crisis, not to mention a major economic blow, as the agriculture industry would be terribly damaged if not extinct.

Siegel is quite masterful in exposing the potential fatality of colony collapse disorder and emphasizing the role of bees as vital organisms in an ecosystem, without making the documentary boring. He doesn’t let figures or scientific terms capture the essence of the film, although you do feel slightly more science-savvy by the time the credits start to roll. Rather than making you feel like you’ve been listening to an 82 minute-long entomology presentation, instead of watching a film, Siegel mixes scientific facts with personal stories and viewpoints of beekeepers, botanists and biologists. This is how the film appeals to viewers — through the human element, apiculture becomes clear to those who know nothing about it. It is an ingenious and subtle way to spread the message of the film.

This human element present throughout the documentary is not of the in-your-face, Michael Moore-esque type. Gentle yet passionate, it is present through all the random and at times endearingly quirky people who appear in the film. Even though Queen of the Sun is a documentary about a regrettable phenomenon that is still observed today, one can’t help but think that it is kind of a happy film. Although people may think that art and science should never mix, this film proves otherwise. It does not only have a scientific basis for its arguments, but it lives up to the idea of what a movie should be: cheerful, yet serious about the subject it’s talking about. That, plus a dash of enthusiasm.

From the beginning to the end of the film, you see people talking about how much they love bees. After hearing over and over again how much they loved bees, I told myself how absurd it was for anyone to say that they “loved” an insect. As I watched the movie, something finally clicked. It wasn’t about bees, their beehives or honey. These people loved the environment, and their love of bees was just a symbol of this relationship. I’ve never been the outdoorsy type, nor “one with nature,” but I could relate in this regard.

Original Author: M. Celeste Gonzalez