Queen of the Sun: Docu About Bees

High production values, including ace nature cinematography, cannot help “Queen of the Sun”—as important as its message may be—to be more than another dry doomsday documentary.

This time the catastrophe involves the bee kingdom and “colony collapse disorder,” in which bees have been flying off en masse, never returning to their hives.

Director Tagaart Siegel does a competent job of showing us how the entire enterprise of agriculture is essentially impossible without the pollination work, which comes for free, done by bees. In other words, no bees, no food: a very scary prospect indeed. Have we been taking bees for granted for too long?

Siegel introduces us to a number of bee people, be they beekeepers or scientists, who speak passionately for the cause of bees while the little creatures crawl all over the faces and bodies. By the end of this movie, you may feel like bees are crawling all over you, too.

Some of these bee people are quite eccentric, including one gentleman who memorably likes to brush the bees with his moustache. But Siegel is more interested in the plight of the bees than in the people whose love for them is so consuming.

This could have been a more interesting film if Siegel had focused more on the bee people and, through their stories of falling in love with bees, had gradually introduced the bee calamity and the business and science behind it. The human element is certainly present, but it somehow gets overpowered in “Queen of the Sun.”

To these dedicated folks, bees are nothing short of a religion. There is a great documentary buried in “Queen of the Sun” about how and why bees are becoming a religion for an apparently growing number of fine people worldwide.

What they are up against is the increasing industrialization of beekeeping, which Siegel details well. The culprit behind bee disappearance turns out to be no surprise: it is yet again those pesky pesticides. Genetic engineering also plays its part.

The result of this human tinkering with nature is predictably bees that are stressed out, confused, and dying too young. As one of the bee people somberly puts it: “We have to look at the honeybee as a patient in the emergency room. And you don’t demand of a patient in the emergency room that they perform and give you a lot of something.”

Siegel does a serviceable job of capturing the sense of mystery of the bee world—the symmetry of the beehive, the sex life of the queen bee, the symbiotic relationship of bees and flowers—but this aspect of the film could also have been upped. We get close to the wonder but never feel it overtake us.

“Queen of the Sun” loses steam in its final stretch, seeming to have run out of things to say. There are odd sequences on bee stings and the legalization of beekeeping in New York that feel out of step with what has come before.

One late sequence, however, on the wonderful work of the Center for Discovery to integrate the disabled into farm life is quite affecting. Although Siegel does not make clear exactly how the disabled are working with bees—we only see them bottling some honey—his point that the human community has much to learn from the bee community in order to become more truly human is expressed most powerfully here.

“Queen of the Sun” needs more of this kind of material: the human touch. The documentary has a one-note, matter-of-fact feel and somehow never manages to really get under our skin.

Siegel does try to break things up with a few animated sequences sprinkled here and there. But this turns out to be a big mistake: most of the animation is extremely ill-conceived and overly cutesy, thus detracting from the film rather than adding to it. Word to the wise: add animation to your documentary only with the greatest of care.

Credits

A Collective Eye release.

Directed and produced by Taggart Siegel.

Cinematography, Taggart Siegel.

Editing, Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel.

Running time: 82 minutes.