Title: Queen of the Sun
Director: Taggart Siegel
The plight of the honeybee may not be first and foremost on the mind of even some of the more dedicated environmentalists out there, but as not one but two recent documentaries have persuasively argued, the tiny winged creatures serve as an early indicator for the continued prospects of much of humankind’s agriculture, and so their rapid disappearance across the United States over the past five years should certainly be cause for concern and action. Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Oscar nominee Ellen Page, tackled systemic pesticides (the likely culprit, based on similar situations in Europe) in a much more forthright, and slightly pedantic, fashion. Queen of the Sun (subtitled, “What Are the Bees Telling Us?”), directed by Taggart Siegel, is the more fascinating and base-level engrossing of the two works, while not sacrificing one iota its parallel educational or informative aspirations.
Of all the ways the world could end, Hollywood has of course had the most fun with the biggest, from flesh-eating pandemics and killer asteroids from outer space to nuclear armageddon. What if, however, food became such a scarce commodity that it touched off massive world wars? It’s not likely, but in 1923, Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner predicted that in 100 years honeybees would collapse. Now, commercial beekeepers around the country are reporting an incredible loss of honeybees, a phenomenon deemed “Colony Collapse Disorder,” or CCD. Bees are disappearing in mass numbers from their hives with no clear single explanation. The queen is there, the honeycomb is there, but the individual worker bees — who cannot survive more than a day away from their hive — are vanishing.
Using a vast array of interesting characters, from entomologists and authors to a wide variety of beekeepers inclusive of a Rip Taylor-esque yogi who wipes his ’70s-era porn mustache all over a honeycomb, Queen of the Sun deftly connects and contrasts the present day to the past, dipping back in time and illuminating the deep link between humans and bees, and showing how that historic and sacred relationship has been impacted by monoculture farming and other highly mechanized industrial practices. The film imparts facts and interesting little factoids alike — explaining, for instance, a queen’s “marriage flight,” what a bee swarm typically means (it’s a queen alighting for a new home, and her workers following), and how many stings it takes to kill a person (that would be around 500, if you’re not allergic). Yet never does it come across as dry, or uninteresting.
Part of the reason for this is that director Siegel (The Real Dirt on Farmer John) smartly chooses such an array of voices, so that his film has academic heft, but also both social and sociable connectivity. To the extent that such comparisons hold water, the film asks smart questions and draws interesting parallels between bees — so-called “super-organisms” who are biologically dependent on sociability and community living — and humankind, who possess similar needs for interpersonal connection. Siegel also has a real eye for composition, and the movie’s exquisite cinematography and visual vocabulary serve to reinforce the thematic underpinning of bees as a nurturer of life and fertility.
Through this smart construction, Siegel achieves the rare holy trinity of a certain breed of nonfiction cinema. Queen of the Sun is informational, shining a light on an area or subculture not well known; it establishes a factually rooted case for broader advocacy and societal involvement; and it also provides a sense of feel-good uplift in the face of some real problems. For Jerry Seinfeld’s animated offering — this is the real bee movie. See it, and you’ll never look at those little creatures buzzing about in quite the same way. For more information on the film and its issues, visit www.QueenoftheSun.com.
Written by: Brent Simon