More than Honey: Film Review

More Than Honey Poster Art - P 2013

More Than Honey Poster Art - P 2013

Eye-popping photography should draw viewers to this thoughtful, revealing doc.

Colony collapse disorder is only part of Markus Imhoof's entrancing doc about bees.

The dazzling photography of a hard-core nature doc is paired with a more artful sensibility in Markus Imhoof's More than Honey, a film whose fascination with bees and their mammoth impact on the global food chain extends far beyond the subject of colony collapse disorder. Arthouse audiences will eat it up.

The child of multiple generations of Swiss beekeepers, Imhoof begins in the Swiss Alps, where elderly Fred Jaggi's picturesque lifestyle is thoroughly traditional. His apiary teems with black bees whose honey has a distinctive flavor, and he goes to great lengths to protect them from interbreeding with a species found on the other side of the mountain.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Californian John Miller, whose large-scale operation plants itself in one agricultural region long enough for his bees to service a massive orchard, then moves to another state. The repeated moves, though enabling economies of scale, are physically stressful to the bees and exacerbate problems with disease and mites. Miller acknowledges some hazards of his way of beekeeping but says flatly, "I don't know how to shrink a business or a lifestyle and be happy."

As these two characters are joined by others (both beekeepers and scientists) and the film moves freely between China, Australia, the U.S. and Europe, many viewers will lament the absence of any titles telling us where we are or who we're listening to. But most will be too entranced to complain, as the humans are only part of the picture: Jorg Jeshel and Attila Boa's macro photography of bees is in itself sufficient reason to see the film.

The camera creeps into hives, observes as workers tend obsessively to their queen and moves fluidly through flowers as bees pollinate plants. In a couple of scenes it tracks them as they zip through the air, keeping a single insect in frame so successfully viewers will wonder if they're seeing an incredibly realistic bit of CGI. They're not: The bees are real, though animal handlers helped guide their flight paths. The scenes' strange look is mostly due to high-speed photography: Filmmakers shot 300 frames per second in flying scenes, but even hive scenes were shot at high speed so action that would have looked like -- well, like a swarm of bees -- can be slowed down and made comprehensible. The effect is photography so vivid one imagines feeling the hairs on a bee's legs, and movement that we follow well enough to begin (with the help of experts) to understand the behavior of a creature responsible for so much of the globe's food supply.

Production Companies: Thelma Film, Ormenis Film, zero one film, Allegro Film

Director-Screenwriter: Markus Imhoof

Producers: Thomas Kufus, Helmut Grasser, Pierre-Alan Meier, Markus Imhoof

Director of photography: Jorg Jeshel, Attila Boa

Music: Peter Scherer

Editor: Anne Fabini

No rating, 95 minutes