Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?: Film Review

Queen of the Sun Review Two 2011

Queen of the Sun

Rich subject matter and persuasive presentation make this visually appealing nature documentary worth buzzing about.

The folks interviewed in this doc make a killer case for a reality series about beekeepers, but the real focus here is the problem afflicting the world’s bee population, dubbed "Colony Collapse Disorder."

NEW YORK – “Honey just got funny” was the tagline for the 2007 DreamWorks Animation release, Bee Movie, in which Jerry Seinfeld gave voice to a bee that rebels against the exploitation of the agricultural industry. That scenario is no laughing matter in Taggart Siegel’s fascinating Queen of the Sun. Stating its arguments with complexity, urgency and stirring glimmers of hope, this lovingly made eco-documentary is an impassioned call to action on behalf of these hard-working winged creatures.

Siegel’s 2005 film, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, focused on a single maverick personality and the evolution of his Illinois spread from traditional dairy and poultry farm to hippie commune and target of community ostracism to rejuvenated organic operation. A natural stepping stone in subject matter, Queen of the Sunis less narrative-driven and more diffuse, but no less peopled by engaging eccentrics.

Interviewees include a French yogi, whose adoration for the queen bee borders on the erotic; a construction manager, who keeps bees on his East London rooftop with his teenage son; a couple, who extols the magical properties of bees in the bushlands of Western Australia; a Piedmontese sustainable agriculturalist, who rails against pesticides with the fervor of an underground radical; a family on the South Island of New Zealand whose idyllic rural environment has given them a profound respect for nature; and a biodynamic “swarm rescuer,” who teaches people not to fear the frenzy surrounding a hive in the back yard.

These and other folks represented make a killer case for a reality series about beekeepers. But the real focus here is the problem afflicting the world’s bee population, dubbed “Colony Collapse Disorder.” Predicted as long ago as 1923 by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner, the drastic decline in honeybee production has received increasing media attention in the past few years. Siegel explains the causes, the results and the possible solutions in terms both compelling and entertaining.

There is no clear single explanation; the losses are attributed to several factors. The toxic overload of pesticides destroys the bees’ navigational system and prevents them from returning to their hives; monoculture crop farming denies them the diverse plant life they need to survive; artificial expedients applied to industrial honey production disorient and weaken the bees; biogenetic modification of plants compromises one of nature’s most beautiful co-evolutionary relationships; and an epidemic of blood-sucking mites, one of the bees’ few woes not directly caused by man, has prompted an accelerating cycle of chemical use. Deforestation and climate change presumably are also factors.

The film's soulful central figure is Gunther Hauk, a biodynamic beekeeper in Floyd, Virginia, who lays out the crisis in accessible terms, explaining that four out of every ten bites of food the average person consumes depend on pollination. Mirroring the overall tone of the film and the majority of its interviewees, however, Hauk is less an alarmist than an informed expert, eager to foster understanding and remedial action before it’s too late.

There’s a lovely balance between scientific explanation and emotional advocacy in the film, and while some of the more philosophically inclined talking heads can get a little airy-fairy, hearing them lobby for a more harmonious connection between man and nature is also quite affecting. One subject likens the beehive to a monastery in its illustration of selfless contribution to the greater good.

Such reverence doesn’t seem inappropriate when Siegel’s breathtakingly detailed footage grants us a close-up view of hive infrastructure, honeycomb building and wax production. Accompanied by Jami Sieber’s gentle musical underscoring, the crisp shots of bees working industriously on vibrant wildflowers are stunning. Fun animated segments in various styles are used effectively to illustrate key points.

The film could do without precious touches such as a woman dancing clothed in a sheath of live bees, community theater interpretations of the bees’ drama (one with choral accompaniment) and kids scampering among flowers in winged costumes. But it’s hard to begrudge the filmmaker the occasional cutesy indulgence when his work holds such remarkable insights, bringing historical perspective, cautionary wisdom and simple, practical solutions.

While industrialized agriculture is no doubt a leading cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, the interviewees are realistic about the likelihood of that trend being reversed. Instead, the film is characterized by heartening faith in the resilience of nature, providing we get on board to help.

Opens June 10 (Collective Eye Films)
Production company: Collective Eye Productions
Director /drector of photography: Taggart Siegel
Producers: Jon Betz
Music: Jami Sieber
Animation: Noah Dorsey, Alyssa Timon, Chris Rodgers, Michelle Hwang, Emma Tripp
Editors: Jon Betz, Taggart Siegel
No rating; 82 minutes