The bees are disappearing. The phenomenon is called colony collapse disorder, and no one knows what's causing it. As the documentary Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? reports, five million honeybee colonies in the U.S. have been lost to it. At stake is, among other things, what we eat, because bees pollinate fruits and vegetables. No bees, no fruits and vegetables.
Everyone should know about these alarming events, but Queen of the Sun doesn't serve its subject very well. The film is chaotic and silly, and it left me more perplexed than concerned.
Queen of the Sun shares a theme with recent documentaries like King Corn and Food, Inc.: Maybe the way we do large-scale commercial agriculture isn't so great. In compelling scenes, the new film shows how zillions of bees are piled onto tractor-trailers and driven to, for example, a giant California almond crop during a brief pollination period. This is undoubtedly stressful for the bees, and director Taggart Siegel's film implies that the widespread practice could be propelling the crisis.
It's not the only possible cause that's mentioned. Pesticides and genetically engineered crops also come up. But it seems to me Siegel is mainly just pointing out various aspects of Big Agriculture that proponents of organic farming don't like. Doing away with them, it's suggested, might save the bees. But on the other hand (I infer), it might not, so as far as the bees are concerned, what's the point?
Queen of the Sun is short, just 82 minutes. At that length you might expect a tightly constructed argument. But the film meanders crazily, so that by the end, I wasn't sure what it was trying to tell me.
Partly it seems like a documentary in the vein of PBS's Nature, and the close-up photography is indeed stunning. The film also spends lots of time with organic beekeepers. They're a colorful group. A goofy French guy gleefully rubs his bees with his bushy mustache, then seems to meditate by his hives. A beekeeping family swears that after a pony hurt its leg, wrapping the wound with honey healed it. Elsewhere, in baffling scenes, people dressed as flowers and bees dance in a church, and a caged actress playing a queen bee sings.
Having completely lost its way, Queen of the Sun tries to right itself at the end with a list of simplistic instructions like the ones that conclude Food, Inc. To save the bees, we're told, we must eat organic food. But the thoughtful food writer Michael Pollan, featured in the film, has prominently argued that choosing organic comes with its own set of serious woes. Those go unmentioned here. I suspect we won't solve many problems, including colony collapse disorder, simply by following preachy commandments.