TrueMind // 2009 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 17th, 2011
Little bee. Big mystery.
In late 2006, bees in North America started disappearing. This startling new trend (dubbed by scientists as Colony Collapse Disorder) generated a wide variety of conspiracy theories about the root cause of the disappearances -- perhaps cell phones were to blame, or maybe it had something to do with the forthcoming apocalypse -- but scientists were unable to effectively pin down the culprit responsible. The 2009 documentary Vanishing of the Bees isn't any more successful in terms of finding the official cause, but it does provide a reasonably compelling suggestion and mostly manages to avoid the absurd hyperbole that has surrounded the Great American Bee Debate.
In fact, so much of Vanishing of the Bees is so reasonable that it's a little startling when the film tosses us a fleeting curveball (as it does every 10-15 minutes). A woman taking a more philosophical approach to the problem suddenly turns up and starts talking about how we need to restore our appreciation of female divinity in nature to solve the problem. Of course, if what she's really trying to say is that beekeepers need to cease the practice of killing queen bees and forcing the hive to accept a substitute, she probably has a point (the film eventually gets around to making that point, but the female divinity in nature advocate doesn't).
Also, if you're an avid fan of modern pesticides, you're certainly not going to be tickled by much of what this documentary has to offer. After wandering through a variety of theories (noting some as being ideas with genuine merit and others as conspiratorial garbage), Vanishing of the Bees more or less marches forward and says pesticides are to blame. While the doc admits that there is no hard evidence to back this claim, they also present a series of eerie coincidences between the use of pesticide and the disappearance of the bees that suggests that the idea is at least deserving of an in-depth investigation.
Running a close second in the derision department: The Environmental Protection Agency, which the film more or less depicts as a corrupt group of big business-loving sell-outs. "They ain't the Environmental Protection Agency, 'cause they don't protect the environment...they're just...just...the environmental whatever!" one angry farmer notes. Of particular concern is the notion that the EPA allows the companies making the pesticides to supply their own reports on the environmental effects of their products.
Given some of the doomsday conversation that has surrounded this topic, Vanishing of the Bees does an admirable job of staying away from the kind of sensationalist rhetoric that has fueled so many magazine articles on the subject (which usually begin by quoting Albert Einstein and end by proclaiming that we'll all be dead soon if we don't figure this out by yesterday). Perhaps recognizing that it's taking enough license with its slightly-overconfident pesticide proclamations, the documentary otherwise chooses to focus on the effects CCD has on beekeepers and crops.
The DVD transfer is sturdy if unremarkable, faring the best when it focuses on its striking collection of farmland imagery. There are quite a few talking heads, along with some animated slides that look kind of crummy (along those lines, the pieces of archival footage employed look rougher than they ought to, also). Audio is clear and clean throughout, dominated by interviews with a host of bee farmers, scientists and activists, plus narration courtesy of Ellen Page (whose high-pitched, emotionally involved intonations are a pleasant contrast to the usual sort of booming gravitas that often accompanies this sort of thing). Extras include "Honeybee Rescue" (a piece on how to correctly remove a bee colony from your land), "Beekeeping in France" (a piece about beekeeping in France) and "Colony Collapse Disorder" (an animated short outlining the specifics of the disorder). The disc is housed in environmentally-friendly (I guess?) but super-flimsy packaging, as the disc sits on a thin plush dot stuck inside an alarmingly thin piece of cardboard. This thing is going to get beat up after a few years no matter how carefully you store it. Ah well, the apocalypse will claim us all pretty soon, anyway.
While not as polished, riveting or emotionally involving as it hints at being, Vanishing of the Bees is a solid bit of educational filmmaking.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated