Docurama // 2009 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // March 27th, 2011
The endangered world of bees.
When we talk about where our food supply comes from, the obvious facets of production come to mind: seeds, farms, and labor all contribute plenty to the stocking of our grocery shelves. One extremely important piece to this puzzle, however, that often gets left out is the role that bees play. Honey is a tasty, nutritious, and salable byproduct of their labor, but their real value lies in the pollination of any number for fruits and vegetables. Without their efforts, our foot supply would surely collapse, yet our buzzing friends and the friendly weirdos who care for them face a crisis.
Historically, the beekeeping profession has been able to sustain itself without external assistance; hard work and the natural behavior of the bees was enough. In recent years, though, beekeepers have seen their populations decline dramatically, sometimes by a third or more. Called, by those concerned, Colony Collapse Disorder, there is no known cause and no known cure. This is more dramatic than a simple hit to their bank accounts; it represents a drastic threat to our continually growing world population. If there are no bees, how will the trees get pollinated and, if the trees don't pollinate, from where will my oranges come?
These are the major talking points of Colony, a documentary from directors Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell that explores the beekeeping profession in general and tries to tackle the ongoing debate of Colony Collapse Disorder. It is beautifully filmed and raises an issue I was not aware of, but the film does not take a stand. It leaves us with a clear idea of the conflicting arguments, but without a position to support on either side. There are plenty of interesting things to learn and some great bee footage, but the overall picture is underwhelming.
Hearing from the beekeepers, we find a varied and very strange group of individuals who are universally in love with their chosen field and fully dedicated to their precious insects. This is not a career for banking cash and retiring with a house on the hill; those who choose this profession also choose to give up any aspect of their lives having nothing to do with bees. Beekeeping is a sacrifice career. It's tough to watch the people involved, who clearly care so much, face a declining market and dying bee populations, which lead directly to a loss of business and the prospect of the shutdown of operations. My sympathy goes out to them, but when we ask the question of why the bee populations are declining (the crux of the film), we are left with too many questions. The beekeepers have a panicked perspective, albeit an understandable one, but there's not much science to back up what they say. When Gunn and McDonnell talk to scientists about it, they try to debunk some of the theories about pesticides and genetic engineering, but they don't give an alternative solution and, because of some of their affiliations, their credibility is suspect. Thus, the audience is left in the middle, with more knowledge about bees and their role in the farming infrastructure, but without any real sense of the reality of the problem with the decline of the bees. I appreciate the presentation of both sides of the debate, but in leaving us with little more than speculation, the directors have failed their audience.
Docurama has delivered fairly well on Colony, but it's nothing special. The anamorphic image looks excellent and, with the cinematography, often very beautiful. The transfer is crystal clear with good detail, especially for a documentary. Gunn and McDonnell clearly went out of their way on how they shot the film, and it's well represented on the DVD. The sound, though, is quite average; a simple stereo mix with little differentiation in the channels is all we have. There are no extras.
I'm glad to have seen Colony because it alerted me to an issue I'd never considered. The film's lack of hard evidence and preponderance of panic theories regarding the causation of Colony Collapse Disorder, if it's actually a thing, makes me question the credibility of both the witnesses and the experts. Luckily, the film is very pretty because, while I don't discount the potential crisis of bee collapse, Colony doesn't do nearly enough to shed light on the issue.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated