Streaming Spotlight - Bee Movies

Films that give you a buzz in celebration of World Bee Day

by Amber Wilkinson

Honeyland Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
In the great big scheme of International Days, World Bee Day on May 20 is something of a new kid on the block, only inaugurated in 2017 - but humans have appreciated their value for centuries, with a 40,000-year-old spear in Spain found to have had its head attached with their wax. Many cultures, from the ancient Egyptians and Greeks onwards have incorporated bees into folklore - they've been messengers for the Gods, creatures that must be told about a death or go-between this world and the spirits. They've also proved a strong motif in cinema, which has channelled both their negative and positive connotations into everything from horror to animation, while most recently their precarious situation as part of our essential ecosystem has also made them the subject of several documentaries.

So, this week, we're shining the honeyed glow of our Streaming Spotlight on some of the busiest characters in cinema. For more suggestions, check out this week's Stay-At-Home Seven.

Honeyland, Amazon, GooglePlay and other platforms

Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov's documentary begins as a purely observational documentary of one of and, quite possibly, the last wild beekeeper in Macedonia, Hatidze - who appears to be the only resident of a tumbledown village, save for her ailing mother Nazife. The directors quietly watch the pair of them as they go about their business, but the whole film takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of  itinerant Turkish couple Hussein and Ljutvie, their herd of cattle and their gaggle of kids. The story then opens out into a consideration of husbandry versus economics, not to mention the pluses and minuses associated with Hatidze's isolation. Shot with a cinematic eye for the landscape that makes you feel as though you're watching a fiction film at times, this is a beautifully made consideration of a way of life that is dying out.

Maya The Bee, Amazon and other platforms

Maya The Bee
Maya The Bee
Jennie Kermode writes: If your little ones are buzzing about Germany's favourite hymenopteroid as she races through her latest adventure, Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb, it's well worth checking out her first big screen adventure, in which she ventures out into the corn poppy meadow to try to solve the mystery of missing royal jelly. A brave and resourceful little bee whose talent for getting into trouble is balanced by a big heart that wins the loyalty of those around her, Maya is a great heroine for young children, and the film delivers plenty of engaging thrills and spills without ever taking them too far out of their comfort zone. It's brought to life by the vocal talents of Mad Max: Fury Road's Coco Jack Gillies, and there are some significant digs at the Australian class system which will amuse adult viewers, but for kids the message is simpler: overcoming fear and prejudice can help us make amazing new friends.

Bee Movie, Netflix

Bee Movie
Bee Movie
Aimed at a slightly older demographic than Maya, this animation in the tradition of Antz is likely to appeal most to kids who appreciate an easygoing feelgood formula and existing fans of Jerry Seinfeld, who both co-wrote and provides the voice for lead bee Barry B Benson. As a fresh graduate from college, Barry is less than sure about his hive choices and finds himself befriending a human (Renee Zellweger) much to the upset of her boyfriend Adam (Matthew Broderick). Predictable silliness ensues but the humour is pitched nicely, with plenty of visual gags for the youngsters and just enough nods to more adult humour to keep the whole family engaged. Following its stint in cinemas, the film went on to create an unusual internet buzz some years later as the basis of a colony of memes, including a YouTube video that speeds up 15 per cent every time someone says the word "bee".

The Secret Life Of Bees, Disney+, Amazon and other platforms

The Secret Life Of Bees
The Secret Life Of Bees
Although perhaps erring a little on the side of naive sweetness, Gina Prince-Bythewood's adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's best seller about the incipient civil rights movement in Sixties South Carolina has an endearing warmth to it that is hard to resist. Dakota Fanning plays a girl who escapes the clutches of her abusive dad with their housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) and finds sanctuary with beekeeping sisters (Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo and Queen Latifah). With a cast that's hard to beat and an inclusive and feminist approach to the idea of civil rights, a spoonful of honey helps its broader themes slip down gently.

Candyman, Netflix

Jennie Kermode writes: It sounds ridiculous at first - a man made out of bees who has a hook for a hand and is also a ghost, who appears to kill those who speak his name three times in front of a mirror - but folk tales that survive through the ages often seem that way until one unravels their origins. Bernard Rose's 1992 shocker has retained its power partly because it understands this so well, and it's a much more complex, subversive tale than you might expect. The bees betoken industry, as is often the case, but the fact that they also instil fear is a reminder of the latent terror experienced by those who gain from others' work. A similar fear is experienced by white grad student Helen (Virginia Madsen) as she ventures into a black ghetto to investigate the legend, and the Candyman himself turns out to have originated as a black slave. Obscure as its approach may be, this is one of few 20th Century US films to tackle the legacy of slavery and its impact on the contemporary US psyche. It's also brilliantly directed in a way that often evokes a hive.

The Vanishing of the Bees, Amazon Prime

Vanishing of the Bees
Vanishing of the Bees
Jennie Kermode writesIf you know anything about pollination or agriculture, the precipitous drop in bee populations over the past two decades will give you the chills. George Langworthy, and Maryam Henein's documentary is a welcome addition to public discussion of the matter, going through all the major theories in a way that's accessible to the average person, but not dumbing down the science. Although it has a few unfortunate gaps and the twee graphics interlinking segments are a bit of an embarrassment, overall it's smart and incisive, with great contributions from a host of different people who work with bees. There's some fascinating close-up bee photography and a celebration of honey which is bound to give you cravings. Emilia Fox, narrating, also reminds us just how vital bees are to human subsistence. Follow up with The Pollinators (also available on Amazon) for a complete picture of the current crisis.

The Spirit Of The Beehive
The Spirit Of The Beehive
The Spirit Of The Beehive, Apple iTunes

Bees are often used to put community and industry in a positive light but this Spanish classic, directed by Víctor Erice, uses the hive as a metaphor for the futility of living under the Franco dictatorship - the people, like drones, relentlessly busy yet trapped, with no place for the sick. The weightier themes of oppression and lingering post-Civil War trauma are balanced by the energy generated by its young leads - Ana (Anna Torrent) and Isabel (Isabel Tellería). They live with their beekeeper dad and mum in a house that itself feels like a hive of sorts - each parent almost compartmentalised - while the rooms take on the golden glow of the coloured glass, which is picked out in hexagonal panes. After the girls see James Whale's Frankenstein, the younger, Ana, develops an obsession with the monster... until she finds one of her own to befriend. Ericebalances the bleakness and sweetness perfectly to paint a complex picture of a Spain grappling with its past and present.

Our short selection this week is John Williams' Hibernation, which, like The Spirit Of The Beehive, offers a children's view of the world and sees boys try to reanimate a bee with the hope of moving on to bigger things...

Hibernation from John Williams on Vimeo.

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