A blog about science and movies.
Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? (2010) is one of three bee-themed documentaries currently sitting in my Netflix queue. Tonight I actually got around to watching it. The 80 minute movie traverses the world to explore current problems the bee population is facing, how it could impact our existence, and what people can do about it. The film is well-shot and edited, informative, and surprisingly human.
The story revolves around Gunther Hauk, a biodynamic farmer who runs a bee sanctuary. He explains the ills of migratory beekeeping – the practice of transporting colonies of bees great distances to aide in commercial agriculture, which weakens and even kills the bees – and the cryptic and well-documented epidemic of colony collapse disorder, which causes bees to inexplicably abandon their hives. Rather than paint the migratory beekeeper as the villain, the doc acknowledges that they are doing what they need to to stay in business. Instead, the finger of blame is mostly pointed at commercial faming and the development of monoculture, huge farms devoted to the growing of a single crop. This practice creates an ecosystem unsustainable for bees, who only have nectar (food) for a few weeks of the year, and thus need to be trucked in.
As the narrative jumps all over the globe, interviewing beekeepers and experts from the UK to New Zealand, Oregon to Italy, it paints a gloomy picture of a future without bees. Foretold in the early 20th century by Rudolf Steiner, a bit of a bee-Nostradamus, who said that the industrialization of agriculture would cause bees to go extinct by the end of the century. Such a future would mean an end to global food production as we know it, as 40 percent of all food we consume was pollenated by bees. The film drags a bit in the middle, as the content gets a bit repetitive. It is not without entertainment though, as one character it returns to frequently is a 70-year-old bee historian in France, who tends to his hives shirtless and brushes the backs of his bees with his long mustache.
The third act is well worth waiting for, as it brings a very human and optimistic touch to the bee story. It explores the bee-utopias of Western Australia and New Zealand, where bans on chemicals and better stewardship of the bees and agriculture have produced happy, healthy bees free of CCD. It travels to backyards and rooftops where hobbyists are keeping bees and educating the next generation on their importance in our mutual survival. It goes to New York City, where a grass-roots effort reversed a long-standing law that made beekeeping illegal. Hauk walks the grounds of his bee sanctuary and gives some suggestions for what commercial agriculture to reverse the damage of monoculture, like dedicating some of the land on a farm to plants that would sustain bees year-round. And in the film’s most touching moments, it shows how a group home for people with autism functions much like a beehive, where the individuals work together to ensure everyone’s benefit and growth.
I must admit, I have been fascinated by bees for a while, ever since covering local apiaries during my time working in news. Being up close to a hive is a thoroughly peaceful experience and at no time did I feel like the bees would harm me. These magical creatures offer us so much for our survival and our benefit; that spirit is woven throughout Queen of the Sun. To learn more about bees – and ourselves – it is worth checking out.
Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? is available for instant viewing on Netflix or for purchase on Amazon.com.