This is the season of award campaigns in Hollywood, with a frenzy of screenings, advertisements and lobbying, with novelty burning out faster than a shooting star. Today’s glut for stimuli eerily resembles the world gone mad in a must-see documentary film, winner of multiple international awards and Switzerland’s Oscar® entry in the Documentary and Best Foreign Language Film categories, MORE THAN HONEY directed by Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoof.
Deceptively innocuous, peeling layers upon layers of spectacular bee visuals, the film gives the most intimate look yet at the devastation of planetary proportions caused by the monoculture mania. Bees are farmed out like slave labor from one endless plantation to the next. Weakened, they are treated with chemicals, with the end result that bees in the Western world can no longer survive without the medicine. Entire colonies have already disappeared in what has become known as the world-wide phenomenon of “colony collapse disorder”. “Depending on the world’s region, 50% to 90% of all local bees have disappeared.” ” (www.morethanhoneyfilm.com)
What makes MORE THAN HONEY such a master work of filmmaking is the scope, which brings together images from China, where people are now pollinating the flowers by hand since there are no bees left in that country to do the job; and from the California’s Central Valley’s gigantic monoculture plantations of almond orchards where beautiful blooms are peppered with toxic chemicals in broad daylight, when bees are pollinating the flowers. Pesticides-carrying truck, with driver’s face ominously hidden behind the gas mask, sprays deadly jets of white foam on almond blooms. We see in extreme close-up how one bee struggles against the jet, falls off the flower and tumbles to its death. Almonds, anyone?
What also makes MORE THAN HONEY so worthy of our attention is that it does not peddle in sensationalism. We have become accustomed to the showmanship of filmmakers who make their work as entertaining as possible in order to get the message across. That type of approach has already had deadly effects on education. Making serious subjects entertaining is a dangerous proposition, leading to simplifications and eagerness to please and be pleased. Makes us complacent, dangerously similar to the family in one of the great short stories by the Italian writer Dino Buzzati, where dinner cannot be interrupted or, heavens forbid, abandoned, even as the rising floods engulf the house and the servants flee.
The bees have almost all fled already, as MORE THAN HONEY poignantly shows. In a memorable quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, we are reminded that “if bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would only have four years left to live.”
It took 5 years and endless patience and ingenuity for director Imhoof, an Academy Award®-nominee for his feature film “The boat is full” (1981), to finish MORE THAN HONEY. There is a nostalgic storyline in the beginning of the film about the Imhoof family’s beekeeping roots in the Swiss Alps. Sweepingly, the film expands its lens to encapsulate the state of the world today with bees, like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine dying under the punishing conditions of our own making.
MORE THAN HONEY beautifully ends on a positive note, and with an unlikely star: the so-called killer bees. These bees resist attempts by humans to use them as slave labor. As one of the protagonists in the film, the wonderful Fred Terry of Arizona, tells it, “not even a bear can get up there”, referring to a new colony of ‘killer’ bees high up in the rock cave. These bees don’t get sick, and their honey is truly natural, collected from the wild blooms. But how long can these isolated, small clusters of killer-bees or wild plants survive in a world hell bent on transforming our precious natural habitats into deadly plantations of genetically modified, pesticide and herbicide-infused monocultures?
Although bees are the stars, the film is really about us, and the world we inhabit. The world which we recklessly take for granted. Markus Imhoof’s MORE THAN HONEY is that rare film which documents a watershed moment in human history when we collectively stand on a precipice and have one more chance to choose to be on the right side. The side of our own humanity.
MORE THAN HONEY, 2012, 95 min
Directed by Markus Imhoof
Distributed in the U.S. by Kino Lorber