If bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would have four years left to live. That assertion, attributed to Albert Einstein but perhaps apocryphal, is voiced in âMore Than Honey,â a fascinating but rambling documentary about the decimation of the worldâs bee population through the phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.
Directed and written by Markus Imhoof, a Swiss filmmaker, the movie is a tutorial on the biology and social behavior of bees and their exploitation in the age of industrial agriculture. Mr. Imhoof is descended from a long line of beekeepers whose cultivation of bees and harvesting of their honey are still carried out in more or less traditional ways. The film approvingly contrasts Mr. Imhoofâs family tradition with the techniques of modern agribusiness in which bee colonies are trucked from place to place to pollinate enormous orchards.
The cinematography, by JÃ¶rg Jeshel, is spectacularly beautiful, whether the camera is contemplating the Swiss Alps or the interior of a hive, where bees are observed in enlarged close-up. But the film goes overboard with cartoonish slow-motion footage of bees in flight.
The documentary begins on a sentimental note as Mr. Imhoof discusses his clanâs history of raising bees. The process of pollination by bees attracted to the fragrance of blossoms is described in romantic words and images.
The film jumps to almond orchards in California, a state that produces up to 80 percent of the worldâs almonds â a harvest dependent on bee pollination. A farmer looks on as a pesticide is sprayed and appears to disable a bee without killing it. When that bee returns to its colony, we are told, it will spread the pesticide.
If the film doesnât directly blame colony collapse disorder on pesticides, it implies a strong connection. In a scene filmed in northern China, where pesticides are heavily used, bees have all but vanished, and peasants are reduced to laboriously importing pollen from the south and daubing it by hand on blossoms. Other contributing factors to bee depopulation are the varroa mite, which attaches to the bee and weakens it, and the stress of travel.
And what about the so-called killer bees, Africanized honey bees, that were discovered in the 1970s and began entering the United States two decades ago? Demonized before their arrival as dangerous and unproductive, they may not entirely deserve the bad reputation, according to the film. They are prodigious honey makers.
The most intriguing observations are those of Randolf Menzel, a German neurobiologist who views a bee colony as a single large animal. The worker bees make up the body, and the drone and the queen are male and female sexual organs. By this definition, a colony of 50,000 bees represents a single organism with nearly 500 billion nerve cells, as compared with the human brainâs 100 billion.
More Than Honey
Director Markus Imhoof Writer Markus Imhoof Stars Fred Jaggi, Randolf Menzel, John Miller, Liane Singer, Heidrun Singer Running Time 1h 35m Genre Documentary