Saturday, June 11, 2011

Listen to the Bees

Queen of the Sun
Directed by Taggart Siegel
Produced by Siegel & Jon Betz
Released by Collective Eye Films

Taggart Siegel’s sober-minded (and sobering) documentary Queen of the Sun meticulously lays out evidence that the honeybee--probably nature’s most important creature, since it nearly singlehandedly ensures the continued propagation of most plant life on earth--is dying off in huge numbers, which will almost certainly create a catastrophe of epic proportions that will also affect life as humans know it.

Despite such a gloomy prognosis at its center, Queen of the Sun is admirably restrained, even lighthearted, in explaining this alarming premise, as much of the film is taken up by interviews with various bee lovers, mainly experts and beekeepers, from around the world, all of whom discuss engagingly and with candor their love for bees and bees’ role in nature’s very survival. “Beekeepers are chosen by bees,” says one quirky character, which pretty much sums up a peculiar but legitimate worldview.

Why are bees dying at such an alarming rate? It seems to be a widespread incidence of Colony Collapse Disorder, which was predicted by Rudolf Steiner, a scientist and philosopher, back in 1923. The film’s many talking heads describe how pesticides are a major culprit, of course, as is the introduction of non-native bee species into certain areas, which bring with them diseases that native bees are not resistant to, causing calamitous consequences. Massive agricultural industrialization has also caused a shift in how certain crops are grown, and whole areas where bees were once plentiful are now barren because the current plant life doesn’t sustain the growth of hives.

Even if one thinks its charges are too alarmist (which they’re not), Queen of the Sun can still be appreciated simply as a loving document of nature. The superb photography catches every microscopic bit of beauty as the bees pollinate an array of colorful flowers, are shown in their hives dripping with golden honey or are seen swarming in a tree in the Bronx, in a particularly unlikely but amazing moment while one New York City beekeeper talks about her rooftop hive. Even the opening shots, of an attractive young woman doing a sort of bee dance as she sways and moves with hundreds of bees all over her body, are an eye-opening introduction to a strangely intoxicating world.

We also hear life-affirming tidbits like the one from author Michael Pollan, who makes clear that, at least aesthetically, bees and humans are similar: both species agree on the beauty of flowers’ colors and scents, since the flowers that bees pollinate are also the ones most people find beautiful in our very own yards and gardens. Compare this to the plants that look and smell awful, and which are usually pollinated by filthy flies: for aesthetics alone, we should ensure that honeybees survive, but there are so many more compelling reasons, which Queen of the Sun painstakingly shows.

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