Last night I went to see the documentary ‘More than honey’, directed and produced by the Swiss film-maker Markus Imhoof. As I work with bees (bumblebees) and have already read a bit about colony collapse disorder and honeybee farming I wasn’t expecting too much from the film: an education on all the crops bees are needed for, how they’re dying out and perhaps a plea for pesticides to be banned. However, I was pleasantly surprised, as the movie was not the science-education type of documentary I was expecting.
The film starts in Switzerland, with a Swiss-German bee farmer, Fred Jaggi, who comes from a long line of bee keepers. We see him hiking through the Swiss mountains wearing a Swiss hat and smoking a pipe. The filming captures the beauty of the mountains and creates an atmosphere for this man's rural, bee-centric life. We are introduced to his bees, and how he lovingly cares for them, but with strict rules and punishments if they violate these rules (for their own good, of course). I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say he’s a character.
From here we are transported to America, where we meet John Miller, of Miller Honey farms. He provides bees on a commercial scale to the almond farms in California, and then ships them over to farms in Idaho and North Dakota. Our first introduction to Miller is him standing in the almond farms under the acres of trees and buzzing bees; he sanguinely states that that’s the ‘sound of money’. He then announces that bees are stupid, which is thrown into stark contrast with Jaggi’s respect for their intelligence, and then later in the documentary with the work that scientists have done. In a somewhat Faustian manner, this extreme personality later gets his comeuppance.
The filming of the bees is exquisite, and would impress even those who are used to watching David Attenborough. Particularly impressive is one shot of honeybees mating in flight. The cameras let us enter the bees’ world on a level that feels almost voyeuristic. From these intimate shots of the bees' lives, we are then taken to China, where the bee situation has got so bad that humans are now pollinating the plants themselves. After seeing the beauty of bees visiting flowers in the Swiss mountains, this contrast of thousands of humans walking slowly across a landscape, climbing trees and awkwardly swabbing flowers to pollinate them is eerie (it reminded me of the Philip K Dick novel that Blade Runner was based on, where almost all animals have been exterminated).
The movie finishes on a more positive note, that I was not expecting. We meet Fred Terry, an organic farmer in Tucson, Arizona who has managed to get the Africanized bees to work for him, through what seems like respect and a great understanding of their natural history. We were lucky enough to have this man come and talk after the showing of the film, and tell a number of entertaining and enlightening anecdotes from his lifetime experience of working with bees .
Even if you have no interest in bees I would recommend going to see this film. It’s entertaining simply from a character-based perspective, as well as being visually magnificent. I promise that you won’t see bees in the same way afterwards.
Fred Jaggi: still from 'More than Honey'
More than honey official website