Thursday, June 9, 2011

Taggart Siegel's QUEEN OF THE SUN links bees, honey, crops and colony-collapse

A few years back filmmaker Taggart Siegel shot and directed an 82-minute documentary called The Real Dirt of Farmer John about an unorthodox farmer that proved a surprise mini-hit on the fest circuit. Siegel is back this year with another 82-minute (is that the charm?) documentary that covers a topic impacting the world's well-being that is but another in the growing chain of environmental disasters that we humans seem to enjoy bringing upon ourselves. If you have been following the colony collapse disorder that has affected the honeybee population since 2006, around our country and across Europe, and you realize the link between bees and crop pollination, you'll also understand the importance that the disappearance of the bees could have for humanity.

Siegel -- who this time has shot, directed and co-edited his film -- with his co-producer John Betz (the two are shown above, with Betz on the left), buzzes bee-like around a lot of locations, hives and people -- gathering up information and theories on the reasons for this colony-collapse phenomenon. Nothing proves conclusive here (nothing yet has) but the use of dangerous pesticides is certainly not helping matters. Nor is the Varroa mite, which is a terrible natural danger to the bees, but one on which the use of antibiotics appears to make into an even stronger predator. We see one organic bee-keeper intent on letting the bees sort out this mite problem themselves. Sounds possible but unfortunately we never see or hear about the results of his theory. (Perhaps there aren't any yet.)

We meet bee-keepers around the world, the most germane of which may be those in Australia and New Zealand, where the use of pesticides are not allowed and where colony-collapse disorder has not yet come. (Is there a connection, do you think?) We learn about silica and its near-universal appearance -- in the earth, in honey, in us! And we see an organic bee-keeper (above) working his hives -- even in the midst of an area controlled by the dreaded Montsanto.

A documentary of surprising beauty (given the rather ordinary look of Siegel's Farmer John doc), Queen of the Sun is full of gorgeous images (above and below) -- a visual love letter to bees and all they mean to us. The film makes a number of interesting connections, too. Just as bees are linked in so many way to the health of our society, the film is full of asssociations both to other movies and to life itself.

Simply for the few-minute section on honey, monasteries, monks, wax and light, the film is worth seeing and mulling over. (Remember those wonderful monks in Of Gods and Men? Wasn't one of their main occupations producing honey?)

On the subject of genetic modification and scientific interventions into genetics, the film is less convincing, perhaps because we still know so little about all this. (Of course, we do have Splice to rely on....) On the subject of inbreeding, however -- and what this has done to bee colonies (as well as to everything from poultry to cattle to pigs) -- Siegel does convince. As he does regarding the healing power of honey and the importance of swarming. After seeing this film, I'll never again -- pace the late Irwin Allen -- look at a swarm of bees with anything approaching fear.

Above all, this film is the rare documentary (these days) that actually heartens, showing us small steps toward a necessary goal, one that ought to be achievable over the long haul.  If we still have time for such a thing.

Queen of the Sun, a Collective Eye production, opens tomorrow, Friday, June 10, in New York City at the Cinema Village.  Click here to find other screening around the country throughout the summer months -- with cities, dates and theaters.

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