Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 83 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Age Appropriate for: 12+. The film may creep out some younger viewers who are freaked out by the up-close images of the bees, and there is mention of the queen bees’ mating practices, such as its coupling with numerous partners and the artificial insemination scientists use on the bees in labs. You’ll see some bee semen being squeezed out of one by a researcher, but that’s as graphic as it gets.
The world’s honeybees have been rapidly disappearing since 2002, and ‘Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?’ demands you care about the insects’ plight. No matter how much you hate bugs, ‘Queen of the Sun’ will change your mind.
By Roxana Hadadi
I will admit that, before watching “Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?”, I kind of hated bees. It’s an ancient hate, one that goes back to the first day of kindergarten, when I was stung in the ear by a bee. Curse those striped, fuzzy insects! They earned my vitriol that day.
But I put that long-standing rage aside during “Queen of the Sun,” a decision that allowed me to actually feel bad for those buzzing little yellow-and-black bugs, who have been steadily disappearing from the U.S. and various other countries thanks to a phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder.” Seemingly overnight, millions of them just vanish, abandoning their hives and the honey inside. At first, I thought that would be great! And then I realized bees pollinate our plants and flowers, essentially facilitating agriculture all over the world — and I felt like a jerk.
Chances are you might, too, since everyone in “Queen of the Sun” is so intelligent, knowledgeable and passionate about the bees’ plight. There have been a few other bee documentaries released recently, like 2009’s “Vanishing of the Bees” and 2010’s “Nicotine Bees,” but “Queen of the Sun” director Taggart Siegel doesn’t just focus on why the bees went away but also on how their disappearance could tragically affect the world’s food supply. Siegel talks to beekeepers, scientists, Ph.D.s and philosophers to create a varied look at why bees are so important, from their treatment of the queen bee to their organization as a society, and the 83-minute documentary is incredibly thorough because of it. It becomes a bit repetitive toward the film’s final third, but as a learning tool, “Queen of the Sun” is completely effective.
Most of the documentary’s knowledge comes from biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk of Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary (based originally in Illinois and now in Virginia), who clearly has a respect and affection for the bees in his care. “We are not going to solve the problem by us killing a virus or a bacteria or a fungi,” he says. “The problem is an inner one.” Hauk is “grateful” for a crisis and the ability to learn something, but he’s worried, too: Worried
about the pesticides from surrounding farms that may drift onto his land and into his bees, worried about the impact of the millions of lost colonies of 20,000 to 60,000 bees each. “Their crisis is our crisis,” Hauk says. “We could call it colony collapse disorder of the human being, too.”
What Hauk says is echoed by nearly everyone: Organic beekeeper and queen breeder Kirk Webster says, “We would have just bread and oatmeal and a couple of nuts” if not for the work of honeybees. Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” says bees pollinate about half our food, so “four of every 10 bites of food you consume, you would not consume if not for the work of the honeybee.” And rooftop beekeeper Ian Davies, who keeps his bees in a London neighborhood, is more spiritual about the insects: “We should be revering them, because they’re actually keeping us alive as opposed to the other way around. They’re God’s creatures, and if we don’t protect them, then we’re not protecting ourselves.”
For the most part, though, it seems like Hauk, Webster and Davies are individuals against an overwhelming tide of industry. Siegel chronicles the mechanization of beekeeping, how bees are shipped across the country to pollinate crops for only a few weeks a time, squashing chances of their long-term survival. There’s also the poisonous pesticides; the creation of a “monoculture,” or bees tailored toward specific needs that ruins their evolutionary strength; and the misconception that keeping bees is dangerous, making the practice illegal in places like New York City. If only people were more open-minded and willing to look at the facts, nearly everyone interviewed says, they would understand how integral it is for us to keep bees safe.
Siegel drives the point home through all these interviews, but the film suffers from repetitiveness toward its end: Cutesy animation sequences break up the interviews, but the loving shots of bees doing their thing on honeycomb and in wooden crates gets a bit tedious, as does the constant “we have to save them!” refrain, with few suggested solutions. While the bees are meant to be the stars of this documentary, it’s instead the people who care for them that make more of an impact: Davies’ stepson Philip, who named his queen bees after the British monarchy; bee historian Yvon Achard, a 70-year-old yogi living in France who rubs his large, bristly mustache all over his insect friends (“They like. They like,” he says); and playwright and beekeeper Jennifer Kornberger, who wrote a community play, “The Bee Master,” about a queen bee living in a cage. These people are so in love with their bees, it’s positively infectious.
But while “Queen of the Sun” shares tons of information about the history of bees and the development of colony collapse disorder, there are some things it takes for granted. It introduces beekeepers by their various methods, but it would have been beneficial to describe the differences of organic and biodynamic beekeeping for the audience. And something as simple as why beekeepers always use steam when opening up their wooden crate hives would be helpful, too. It’s like “Queen of the Sun” is geared toward viewers who already know some stuff about beekeeping, but if so, why go into such depth about the bees’ plight? It’s an uneven expectation from Siegel that will sometimes leave the audience confused.
For the most part, though, “Queen of the Sun” effectively demonstrates what could happen if more bees kept disappearing: As one scientist notes, “Bees, butterflies, solitary bees, bumblebees may all die, too. If insects are dying, birds will be dying, plants will be dying.” It’s a disquieting thought, one that Siegel meant to make — and one that will stick with you long after “Queen of the Sun” is over.
“Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?” is playing around the country, and you can suggest and request a screening in the Washington, D.C., area by visiting www.queenofthesun.com. DVDs for both educational and home viewing are also available through the documentary’s website.