When I was in grade school, I was absolutely terrified of bees, a fear that was not helped by growing up a suburban setting in which the gardening of flower beds was a popular pastime. Being no fan of honey, either, I saw little point to their general existence, wishing they just be smote in some fashion. Turns out I was getting my wish all along, though I was unaware of just how devastating this could be, and things have scarcely improved since. The declining population of bees worldwide was the impetus for Swedish filmmaker Markus Imhoof’s new documentary, but More Than Honey manages also to capture something about the worldwide community surrounding them along the way.
Imhoof establishes his basic mission right away by opening on a mountainous European region, in which an old man trudges from his cabin up to a tree, knocks a bee hive down (the man is not wearing a beekeeper’s suit, by the way), gathers his things, and returns home. A few minutes later, we’ll travel to the United States to observe an enormous farm that harvests almonds using bees. Imhoof’s structure helps bolster what we hear from Robert Hunger-Bühler in voiceover – that bees are ingrained in our survival; if they go, we go. It’s not merely a question of economics, though we see how devastating these losses can be as one farm loses 20% of its incoming bees just in transportation, but a matter of some very foundational aspects of our lives.
What is really so endearing about the film, however, are its subjects, many of whom got into the beekeeping business through family – their father did it, and his father before him kind of thing – and the wildly differing ways in which they approach the business is fascinating. Most use small smoke machines to even out the scent in a hive, but one woman in a small operation just lights up a cigar. Big or small, the basic functions are still the same, it’s just a question of specifics. Imhoof has a great eye for detail, and there are some areas he covers that you’d never even consider, like the business of selling a queen bee to introduce a different dynamic to a hive (or to diminish the period of transition, as it usually takes a hive a month to raise a new queen, and even that’s not always a success).
Imhoof intersperses these visits with basic facts about a bee’s life and the operation of the hive, not all of which is terribly enlightening, but is vital to understanding his larger points. It helps that these areas are the most lush and well-illustrated; using astounding close-ups of bees in their hives, he’s able to show us the actual action described in narration. Even to someone who is a little disgusted by insects, I was enraptured by the images he managed to acquire, and I’m sure, having only watched this on a screener, they must be a wonder to see on the big screen.
More Than Honey will screen again on Monday, February 18th at 2:15pm. The screening will take place in the gorgeous Whitsell Auditorium.