By Don Simpson | September 13, 2011
Director: Taggart Siegel
“Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?” Well, sometime in the near future you may never have to worry about beestings, dead or alive. Some people probably think that the possibility of a bee-less world is not a bad thing, but they obviously do not eat their fruit, as honey bees are responsible for pollination of approximately one third of the United States’ agricultural crops, including almonds, soybeans, peaches, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, and cucumbers.
Why are honey bees disappearing? Well, the phenomenon — which has been blandly dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) — has technically occurred throughout the history of beekeeping, but there has been a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of worker bee colonies recently. (Since 2007, the USDA has estimated a 34 percent loss of honey bees per year.) The exact cause(s) has yet to be determined, but the current list of suspects includes: varroa mites and other insect diseases, climate change-related stresses, agricultural pesticides, migratory beekeeping, inbreeding and artificial insemination of queen bees, the industrialization of beekeeping, as well as malnutrition associated with monoculture (specifically California’s almond crop), genetically modified crops, and the practice of feeding high-fructose corn syrup to honey bees.
Taggart Siegel’s (The Real Dirt on Farmer John) documentary Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? presents an international array of guests — including Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk, Vandana Shiva, Hugh Wilson, Michael Thiele, May Berenbaum, Yvon Achard, Carlo Petrini, and Raj Patel — who reveal a variety of perspectives on beekeeping and colony collapse disorder. Throughout Siegel’s film, beekeeping is represented not as a hobby or a career, but as an art form, an ethical responsibility and even as a form of monasticism. Siegel also humorously fetishes the gooey goodness fingered from the dark recesses of the honeycomb — which also happens to serve as a womb for baby honey bees. Backyard and rooftop beekeepers, migratory beekeepers, and biodynamic beekeepers all seem to share an obsessive reverence to their work. As it turns out, these beekeepers are trying to save humankind from the agricultural apocalypse that could occur in the wake of a bee-less Earth.
Organic farming and the discontinuance of the practice of monoculture are both cited as crucial parts of the solution — as is the need for changes in commercial beekeeping techniques (which would result in near-certain bankruptcy for commercial beekeepers) — but no solution will be guaranteed until a definite cause(s) is discovered. If a workable solution is not unearthed soon, humankind’s knack for playing god with nature may come back to sting us sooner than most of us anticipated. I, for one, cannot even fathom living in a world without almonds, soybeans, peaches, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, and cucumbers.
Not only does Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? provide us with profound and colorful discussions on beekeeping and colony collapse disorder, Siegel’s masterful cinematography is also raw and unfiltered eye candy (sweetened by honey, of course). How Siegel captured such magnificent images is almost as mindboggling as how some beekeepers are able to have their bodies completely blanketed by bees without a single flinch.