The Vanishing Of The Bees

The Vanishing Of The Bees

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left."

So said Albert Einstein, one of numerous great thinkers to have pondered on the lives of these industrious insects, which have been celebrated throughout human history. In Einstein's time, though, those words were idle speculation - today they sound like dire prophecy. Over the past few years, right across the US and Europe and in isolated pockets elsewhere, honeybees have begun to vanish. For the most part, we don't even find their bodies. Their hives are full of food but their untended young are starving; they simply don't come back. As those working in the industry approach panic, this documentary asks what's going on.

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Pinning down the truth behind the fate of the bees isn't easy. There don't seem to be any simple answers. It's refreshing to see a documentary which doesn't oversimplify the science or the political issues related to it. Instead the complex situation is carefully explained, along with concerns about where there are gaps in available information and how they might be filled. The argument takes time to build and only occasionally gets diverted into New Age sentiment. It's well substantiated and is delivered with wit and occasional humour by a fantastic cast of beekeepers and related tradespeople, who feel passionately about the issues involved.

When a film is this important and this well intentioned, it's always hard to resist giving it a higher star rating, but unfortunately there are technical problems here that will annoy some viewers. The otherwise compelling story is patchily edited and strung together with an animated book that looks like something from a twee Eighties fantasy computer game. Whilst there's some startlingly good bee photography to enjoy, some sections of film are reused over and over again. The cheap DV footage looks painfully flat, lacking effective lighting, and Emilia Fox's narration, despite her Radio 4 credentials, is unfortunately bland. In other words, it's no more than an average piece of filmmaking. It also feels a bit disingenuous where it talks about the transport of bees without mentioning related concerns about the spread of disease.

This said, The Vanishing Of The Bees has a gripping story to tell and, if you're patient with its technical shortcomings, will soon have you feeling as passionate as its subjects do. For the most part it is diligent and insightful, it's never patronising, and it delivers a very direct message about the things you can do to help. So if you're concerned about bees, don't just watch this film. Plant bee-friendly flowers in your garden. Buy organic honey and bee-friendly fruits and vegetables. And consider signing up to the petition to support further research (you can find it on the film's official site). Just one word of warning - make sure you have some honey at home before you go to see the film, because you'll be craving it when you come back.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2009
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An in depth look at the mysterious disappearance of honeybees and what it could mean for the rest of us.
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Director: George Langworthy, Maryam Henein

Starring: Emilia Fox, David Hackenberg

Year: 2009

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: UK, US

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