Wednesday 4 September 2013

Bee-havioural science: "More Than Honey"

The issue of colony collapse disorder shouldn't be a new one on cinema audiences - it was given an urgent laying out in 2009's explanatorily titled The Vanishing of the Bees - but the German doc More Than Honey lends it a more personal slant. Director Markus Imhoof (whose narration has been dubbed into English, with just the right level of curiosity, by John Hurt) is the grandson of a beekeeper, and he's here set out on an idiosyncratic, at times downright eccentric quest to track down the opinions of all those professionals doing their darnedest to keep our apian friends alive.

They are an eclectic bunch, to say the least: academics using tiny MRI machines to generate bee brainscans, through which they attempt to explain the insects' suddenly suicidal behavioural patterns; old dears who, in the bees' absence, have been obliged to undertake the painstaking business of pollination by hand; migratory beekeepers whose job involves trucking swarms from one coast of the US to the other, following the harvest. The crowd favourite seems likely to be Fred, an Alpine bee-shepherd who does all of his hive-handling with no greater protection than a lit cigar, and routinely squashes his queen bees in order to maintain the racial purity of his hives.

Historians and feminist theorists could have a field day with this, of course, and the film actively encourages contributions from all parties, an acknowledgement that this is one of those issues that will affect everybody if left unresolved. Inevitably, it gets scattered, buzzing from one field to the next in the hope its diverse strands will cross-pollinate and produce a grand unifying theory - and I'm not so sure that the one Imhoof settles on (that killer bees are the way forward) isn't as eccentric as anything else here. Its strongest suit is some fascinating, microcosmic photography, which takes us inside both functioning and collapsing hives, and provides urgent, up-close evidence of the kind of swarming industry we're set to lose if we can't fix this problem.

More Than Honey opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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