Environmental film that should bee seen as well as heard
By Daniel Nelson
Maybe the changes in society that are needed to make the world fairer and more sustainable will come about only when audiences for environmental films such as More Than Honey are as big as for the latest Superman blockbuster.
That’s a depressing thought, because we’re a long way off that point, even if London’s Hackney Picturehouse saw a full house at the weekend for a film about the global decline of bees.
The film carries two box office curses: it’s a documentary and as if that wasn’t “difficult” enough, large parts of it are subtitled.
It opened the UK Green Film Festival, so was presumably preaching to the converted. If only punters who would no more consider attending a performance of Macbeth in German were lured into attending…
But let’s not be disheartened. You have to start somewhere, the Festival itself is only three years old and is growing fast, and, most important of all, if the rest of the Festival is as good as More Than Honey it will be a great success.
The film is enthralling. It features interesting people and the camerawork is gripping, even in these days of ever-more extraordinary wildlife photography. In a Skype discussion after the screening, filmmaker Markus Imhoof emphasised that he had tried to capture the viewpoint of the bees, and he succeeds brilliantly. The result is not simply wonderful set pieces, such as the mating of the queen, or glimpses of the scale of modern industrial farming: it also has unexpected images that stick in the mind – like the Chinese workers pollinating plants by hand, blossom by blossom, because in some areas of the country bees have disappeared completely.
Bee-centred filming also underlines the brutality with which bees are commercially handled. This may sound fanciful – bees do not have the appeal of, say, calves being crammed into trucks for transport to foreign slaughterhouses – but the viewer is unexpectedly forced to confront what seems like cruelty to living creatures.
The film’s attitude, however, is more tough love than bleeding heart. The issues it raises are of selfish concern. As Einstein supposedly said, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.”
We need bees, and because of mismanagement, bees now need us. During the post-screening chat, Walter Haefeker, the president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association, said that the current relationship between commercially managed bees and intensive agriculture had worked for decades: what’s changed, he said, is a generation of insecticides that are destroying bee colonies – and almost certainly damaging us, too, added Joe Jenkins, director of fundraising, communications and activism of Festival sponsors Friends of the Earth.
There is hope, because the European Commission has finally stood up to the chemical corporations and says it backs restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The battle has not been won yet, and Jenkins and Bret Willers of Garden Organic used the screening to urge support for FoE’s Bee Heard campaign and for a National Bee Action Plan.
It would be great if this film helps provoke public pressure. But see it anyway – you’ll learn and see a lot, it’s fascinating, and it sets the bar high for all environmental filmmakers.
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