In 2006, a bizarre entomological calamity reared its head in North America and Europe that is commonly referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder. Hundreds of honeybee colonies began to inexplicably die -- billions of bees vanished off the face of the Earth, with the overall number escalating rapidly. That enigma serves as the foundation of Taggart Siegel’s documentary Queen of the Sun -- a fascinating and largely successful look at the causes of the 21st century bee crisis and its long-term residual effects.
Siegel builds his material on the thesis that a strong link exists between the industrialization of beekeeping, the decline of the millennia-old relationship between individual beekeepers and their hives, and Colony Collapse. The writer-director wastes no time reminding his audience that bees are anything but incidental to the ecosphere -- as pollinators, they serve as one of the foundations of agriculture. Take away the bees, and the entire human food chain may well collapse.
That’s an inspired beginning to this cinematic dehortation, for it forces even the environmentally blind members of the audience to instantly care by bringing the ramifications of the crisis close to home. Likewise, the picture holds a tight emotional grip on the viewer when it begins exploring the various abuses heaped by profit-mongers onto the bee community. For example, we witness corporate-backed beekeepers pouring gallons of high-fructose corn syrup -- a potentially carcinogenic substance -- into hives, and the words “environmental rape” immediately spring to mind. In depicting events such as this, the documentary ultimately makes the very same point as Deborah Cramer’s environmental tome Great Waters: that by interceding in the food chain in such sloppy and ham-fisted ways, humans may be setting up a domino-like effect of tragedies that ultimately leads to their apocalyptic demise.
One cannot fault Queen’s stylistic presentation. As shot by Siegel, it offers a visual feast, not simply through the stunning microphotography of bees, but with bright and original touches such as stop-motion and hand-drawn animated sequences that humorously illustrate the ideas discussed. If this documentary fails, it does so on a narrative level, particularly in the final 30 minutes. One anticipates interviews with beekeeping iconoclasts who have bucked the system by setting up organic hives. And while we do get some of this, the film then fails to take the next step of transitioning to broader societal speculations on how such individuals might be able to collectively turn the tide against corporate-wrought ecological catastrophe. Instead, Siegel has interviewees restate many of the same points made at the outset of the documentary, making his picture feel redundant, overlong, and structurally awkward.
Taggart deserves merit, though, for his self-qualifying acknowledgement of the fact that humankind still has much to learn about the behavior and ecological role of the central subject; as a result, he sustains an open-ended, speculative tone throughout that makes much of the material feel refreshing, and sets it apart from more pedantic environmental documentaries, leaving some room for optimism. Paradoxically, however, one can never quite shake the film’s haunting message -- the conviction that we, as a society, can no longer systematically ignore the warning signs of impending disaster, and that serious, concerted efforts must be made to avert it.
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- Released: 2011
- Review: In 2006, a bizarre entomological calamity reared its head in North America and Europe that is commonly referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder. Hundreds of honeybee colonies began to inexplicably die -- billions of bees vanished off the face of the Earth,… (more)