The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees

If you haven’t heard about the film "The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees" by Mark Daniels, I recommend you view it.

It’s an award winner, with stunning photography, and carries a very important message. It has been showing in Europe since 2010, and is now showing in the US, so why not ask your local library or university to arrange a public viewing?

Q&A with Mark Daniels on making The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees

Mark Daniels kindly agreed to answer some questions about the making of The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees, who features in it, and what he learned about bees along the way.

There are some really inspiring answers here, and a trailer for the film at the bottom.

1. Why did you decide to make The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees?

Mark: I started out knowing nothing about bees. A friend of mine from the States told my producer about CCD in America. We started researching bee problems in Europe and when we recognized how serious and far reaching the problem was we approached the television station ARTE with a proposal for the documentary.

The film’s structure pretty much parallels the stages of my investigation.

2. What have been the major challenges (if any) in producing and bringing this film to a wider audience? (Can the public help?).

Mark: The major challenge was time (which of course means the money to buy time). When you’re making a film about a “hot,” newsworthy subject there’s a tendency for producers and broadcasters to want to get something out quickly.

This is a very complex subject. It took a lot of research and travel. I wanted to retain the complexity, not gloss it over, so the project required a lot of time.

In the end it was almost 3 years of work.  I really appreciate the fact that my producers and broadcasters allowed the film to develop fully.

The film actually had the largest audience for any documentary on ARTE (a French/German public TV station) in 2010 (maybe a film about Marilyn Monroe did a little better).

It’s been shown at a lot of bee-related events in France, Germany, Italy and England. I would very much like the film to be seen by grassroots organizations and interested people all over.

The big problem is that I’m currently living in Europe, so it’s difficult for me to travel with the film everywhere I’d like it to be seen.

3. Where has The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees been shown publicly to date, and where will it be shown next?

Mark: It’s been shown on television in France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. It’s had screenings in Paris, all over France, England, Italy, Germany and Spain.

Only in October 2011 did the full 90-minute version show in America – at the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign at the Smithsonian.

We now have a distributor in the US for the educational market – Icarus Films – so the film is available to libraries, universities, etc.

4. How else can people, who have not seen the film, get to view it?

Mark: The dvd’s are not currently available for individual purchase, but people could ask their local library to organize a screening. Hopefully commercial dvd’s will be available soon.

5. The film is an award winner, and reportedly contains stunning photography.

Where was it filmed, and what in your view, are the most impressive scenes?

Mark: Actually some of the best bee close-ups were filmed in my garden in Normandy. I’d never really looked at the bees in my garden before.

We have a good number of different species and since I am not a very committed gardener we have a lot of flowering weeds and wildflowers for them to feed on.

The lavender fields of Provence are very striking. They are on a rather high plateau ringed by mountains. A little lower there are acres of sunflowers.

But the most beautiful landscape is also the most deadly – the almond orchards of California. Some 700,000 acres of almond trees all bloom at the same time. Pink and white petals drift through the air like snow.

But once the bloom is finished there is nothing for bees to eat. Consequently millions of bees are trucked in and out to provide “pollination services.” Parasites and viruses are spread to bees from every part of the country.

6. You interviewed a number of key scientists. Who did they include?

Mark: Our main advisor was Dr Bernard Vaissierre at INA in Avignon, France. He’s a leading researcher in pollination. It’s part of his collection of bees that I used in the title sequence.

Dr Vassiere studied in Texas, so he’s very familiar with the American agriculture industry and bee practices in the States. Yves Lecompte and Luc Belzunce are also leading bee specialists in France.

A very well known specialist in bee learning is the German scientist Randolf Menzel. In the film he tracks bee flight by radar.

In the US Dennis vanEngelsdorp and Jeff Pettis are very involved in the CCD question, as are Maryann Frazier and May Berenbaum.

Paul Ehrlich co-founded the discipline of co-evolution, and Gene Robinson led the team that decrypted the honeybee genome. The film also includes several of Canada’s leading bee researchers – Laurence Packer, the leading expert on wild bees, Mark Winston and Peter Kevan.

7. Did the scientists seem to indicate to you the main reason for colony collapses and the “strange disappearance of the bees”?

Mark: You’ll have to watch the movie for that. But nearly every cause presented can be traced back to human actions, particularly practices associated with industrial agriculture.

Since the film has played in America Bayer has recommended against using Clothianidin in the almond orchards and Dr Pettis’ study referenced in the film has been released linking neonicotinoid pesticides and weakened immune systems in honeybees.

Several studies have found that neonicotinoids are more persistent in the soil than thought and there are a lot of studies trying to understand the interrelations among the numerous pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in industrial agriculture.

These are difficult studies, but very important – we humans are also exposed to a bewildering array of agricultural chemicals.

8. Was there anything in particular that really astounded or surprised you during the making of the film?

Mark: I was surprised to find that bee stings don’t really hurt that much. On a larger level I was very astounded at the social complexity of the beehive.

One thing about films that is a little sad is that you have to keep moving forward. I would have liked to take a little more time taking a detour and just being with the daily life of bees. They were fascinating to film.

9. Was there anything in particular that you learned from bees, or about bees, that was especially meaningful for you?

Mark: Spending time with Willie Robson** was a very strong experience in that I came to look at bees, and nature really, in a different way.

He really has a vision of nature as a dynamic equilibrium – if one thing goes out of wack other things will.

But it’s also resilient so that solving a problem in one place can lead to a rebalance in others. This sense that everything is in movement made real sense to me as I proceeded through the film and gave me a confidence in the future that I would not have otherwise had I think.

** Willie Robson is beekeeper in Northumberland, the most northerly county in England on the border of Scotland.

10. Have you had any reaction to The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees from the agrochemical industry?

Mark: Ironically I was approached by a representative of a chemical company referenced in the film and mildly taken to task for not giving voice to the chemical companies.

He was surprised to learn that I had tried for several months to shoot at the headquarters of his company in Germany. In the end the company declined.

I made a strong effort not to make any suggestions that were not scientifically supported. The fact is that more and more evidence is pointing towards neonicotinoids. Even the catch-phrase “multi-factoral” assumes agricultural chemicals to be one of the factors.

11. In your view, what is the best way in which the public can help the bees, and what longer term changes does society need to make?

Mark: Stop using chemicals in your garden. In the US more chemical tonnage is used on lawns and golf courses than on crops.

Even people with apartments routinely use pesticides on their window boxes, killing every butterfly that visits. Plant flowers, let weeds grow, ask your town not to cut the grass along roadways too often.

On a longer term, society has to understand that cheap food is not really cheap – it’s destroying the biosphere – just displacing the costs to the future.

Demand food grown in a more responsible manner and insist on proper labeling of foods so that real choices can be made. Support local farmers by eating things in their season – and it’s good for you.

12. Anything else you would like to add?

Mark: Just thanks for asking . . .

My Comment on The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees: I especially appreciate Mark's determination to represent a complex issue to the public. The fact is, some things, despite being complicated, DO need to be communicated to the people.

The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees is great for doing that.

I have long felt that the reason these kinds of bad situations are allowed to continue, is simply this:

    - those with the vested interests are able to hide behind the complexity, the smoke screens and fudge.

I share many of Tom Theobald's frustrations (see links below) - but eventually, when we cut through ignorance and the wider public are aware of what is going on, at some point, there is a tipping point, and things HAVE to change for the better.

We need to hurry up to save our bees before it's too late. So please tell others about the film, The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees!

Learn more about The Strange Disappearance Of The Bees from Icarus Films (opens a new window).

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