“This documentary takes a piercing investigative look at the economic, political and ecological implications of the worldwide disappearance of the honeybee.”
Directed by: George Langworthy, Maryam Henein Rated: Not rated, 87 minutes
Vanishing Of The Bees takes an investigative look at the phenomenon known as CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder. This mysterious and worrisome condition affects one third of bee colonies and if not stopped, stands to devastate the agriculture industry. This film gives a surprisingly emotional look at agriculture, legislature, and beekeepers as they fight to find out what is behind the vanishing of their bees.
The film revolves around two beekeepers, David Hackenberg and Dave Mendes. Both are puzzled as they experience the abandonment of hundreds of their bee colonies without a trace. No bodies are left behind; just empty crates and the remnants of the hive and honey. In some cases, the bees have even abandoned their young, which generally indicates that the colony was under great stress – only no strange diseases or parasites were present. Of the few bees left behind in abandoned colonies, the percent of sickness and infection is no more prevalent than in any healthy colony. When the two beekeepers begin to hear of other similar cases around the world, they realize this is a bigger and more dangerous phenomenon than they thought.
Ellen Page guides us through this documentary, which is full of interesting facts about how bees are connected to every plate of food we eat. While it’s nice to see an A list, Academy Award nominated celebrity lending their voice to an environmental cause, I must admit she is no Morgan Freeman when it comes to narration. Her voice sounds airy, overly enunciated, and “put on,” and I half expected her to start using a British accent at any time. I don’t believe the narration distracts at all from the central point of the film, but I wish someone in the recording studio would have just told her to relax and speak more naturally.
Vanishing of the Beesis not flashy, artsy, or dramatic. It does, however, offer some visually striking shots of vast farmland that are quite impressive. Each section is separated by an animated book flipping pages and opening with a quote by a famous artist, scientist, anthropologist, etc. Needless to say, this documentary is not likely to shock or thrill you. But it does shine in the area that is most important to this type of film, the presentation of information. The film is packed full of studies, statistics, news clips, and of course (albeit wacky in some cases) opinions. When Hackenberg and Mendes have a question, they seek answers from the government, scientists, and other beekeepers around the world. To save you the trouble of watching the entire film, I’ll outline the bits I found most interesting:
- As much as 1 in 3 bites of food are brought to our plates in some way by bees
- Bees pollinate 15 billion dollars worth of food annually in the US alone
- Bees are trucked all around the US to help pollinate crops such as cucumber, squash, lemon, strawberry, sunflower, apple, mango, cherry, sesame, blueberry, and many more
- In the US, 95% of the food we eat is treated with pesticides and when regulating risky practices in the food industry, the FDA opts to expose the public to risks as long as the EPA determines the risks are “reasonable”
- Europe tends to err on the side of caution, and generally will not allow the use of potentially harmful chemicals until they are proven to be safe
Another thing Langworthy and Henein did a great job of showing was heart. The two main beekeepers, especially Hackenberg, get emotional more than once throughout the film over the plight of the bees. It would be easy to assume that they are only worried about loss of profits, but it is very evident through their conversations and actions that they truly love what they do. They even describe keeping bees as a privilege. They consider it an art and a craft, and are happy to help contribute to agriculture by way of pollination. Having started this film feeling rather indifferent about bees, I found myself quite sad by the end. This is for two reasons; because the film outlined the extremely integral part bees play in food production and how their loss would be devastating, but also simply because the mysterious loss over these dutiful creatures is rather despairing.
Unfortunately, by the end of the film the beekeepers do not have a concrete explanation behind the disappearance of their bees. There are links to pesticides, especially systemic pesticides, but there is no clear solution. Some beekeepers have started preservation groups dedicated to organic raising of bees and even some bee havens where bees have access to a varied diet without the presence of toxic chemicals. The film points very strongly to the failure of the regulation of the food industry and the power of big pharma as the antagonists in their story, but the film is neither alarmist nor extreme about it. They give what I feel is an honest account of their investigation into an increasingly alarming and important environmental issue.
Vanishing Of The Bees gives viewers an inside look at the world of beekeeping and the role the honey bee plays in agriculture all around the world. Beyond this information, most environmentally conscious people won’t find much else to be very interesting or groundbreaking. To imply that the food regulation entities in the US are governed more by profits than health or safety is hardly a stretch, and the idea that systemic pesticides are harmful to humans and the environment is not exactly news. However, if you’ve been reading about the plight of bees in the headlines or hearing about it on college campuses, Vanishing Of The Bees will give you all the info and research you’ll need to fulfill your curiosity. It won’t shake you to your core and probably won’t bother people enough to take any action, unfortunately. But if you’re just a documentary lover looking to learn something or need a reason to put off doing housework, this film’s got you covered.