In 2006, millions of honeybees in the United States mysteriously vanished. Referred to as colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon continues in the U.S. as well as in countries throughout Europe. In Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?, director Taggart Siegel (The Real Dirt on Farmer John) continues his exploration into the unique relationships between people, agricultural livelihoods in trouble, and the curious ways in which some of us are moved to extreme measures in order to overcome potentially insurmountable problems.
Inspired in part by Einstein’s quote, “If bees die out, man will only have four years of life left on earth,” Seigel devoted three years of his life to researching and interviewing entomologists, biologists, botanists, beekeepers, authors, philosophers, and other environmental and ecological activists about the issue. Each provides their own explanations as to why this is happening and the catastrophic effect it may have on our own human colony. His subjects are at times inspirational–Gunther Hauk, a beekeeper who came out of retirement to create a biodynamic and organic honey bee sanctuary, and at other times hilarious–bee historian Yvon Archard, who demonstrates the best way to pet bees. With his mustache.
Neither scientists nor those interviewed know the exact reason why bees are disappearing. Some blame monoculture, the practice of growing a single crop over large areas of land. Some point to genetically modified foods, claiming the process introduces bacteria and other foreign agents that are harmful to honeybees and anyone who consumes them. Others suggest the poisons used to treat honeybees affected with a common parasite are to blame. This issue is doubly problematic because the parasites have turned these poisons into a resource and are using them to become super-parasites. Yet others blame a lack of genetic diversity as the result of queen bees being manufactured using artificial insemination. It is now not uncommon to “re-queen your hive” every year or so because these queens fail to thrive.
Many of these arguments are compelling and frightening, and one can see why Seigal was driven to create awareness. However, portions of the film veer off into territory that while is entertaining and provides a sense of hope to offset the tragic consequences that may occur if colony collapse disorder is not resolved, does little to address the issue. We’re presented with astonishing facts about the miraculous curative powers of honey, we’re shown bee-themed stage productions complete with caged queens, and we’re delivered more than just a little psuedo-science.
There is no doubt that people close to the issue feel passionate about honeybees and their plight, but I worry that in their enthusiasm for affecting change, some misinformation may be presented here. Combining science with speculation-as-fact may cause this film to be dismissed in wider circles.
In the end, however, the film’s message–that no honeybee can survive alone and while a few people can, for the most part we can’t survive alone either, is evident. This documentary is about more than just raising awareness. It is a call to action.
To learn more about how you can help honeybees, visit http://www.queenofthesun.com/get-involved.
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