I’d like to coin a new genre of documentary, called the ‘Aren’t humans assholes’ genre. It’s becoming increasingly popular, where whatever the subject, at some point it has to get around to how people are screwing everything up. I’m not saying we aren’t screwing things up, but in everything from David Attenborough docs to More Than Honey, there’s an inevitability that at some point you’ll have to feel a bit guilty.
In More Than Honey’s case, it’s about bees. You may have read in the news over the last few years about colony collapse disorder and the varroa mite, which have decimated bee populations in various parts of the world. More Than Honey takes the slow approach, initially introducing us to the world of the bee, and contrasting an aging European bee farmer who looks like he’s just fallen of a book on rustic Alpine stereotypes (barring the lederhosen) and a modern American, industrial bee farmer, before moving onto showing how the problems that have emerged.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the movie prefers the old-fashioned approach to beekeeping. However there’s something oddly impressive and yet disturbing about the industrial approach, not helped by the keeper they follow, who doesn’t seem to care what he’s doing as long as it results in short-term cash. The bees are moved around throughout the year (catching bugs along the way) and can only survive if fed antibiotics. Seeing it, it’s almost miraculous they’ve managed to go this long before major problems were found. While the understanding and manipulation of how bees work is impressive, it takes things so far to the edge of what an insect can withstand, you’d have expected the bees to die the first time they tried it.
It’s when the film is talking about how bees and their colonies work that it’s at its most interesting, as well as how humans have learned about how and why they do what they do. Long ago we started using that to be able to control the insects and domesticate them. However things have accelerated massively over the last few decades to the point where a hive is almost treated like an industrial machine rather than a living entity – and so it’s little surprise that it keeps breaking down.
Things with the film become trickier when it starts to actively blame humans, simply because it has to paper over the fact nobody knows exactly what causes colony collapse. While it’s generally accepted it’s humans fault, More Than Honey ends up dipping into slightly hippy territory to explain it, rather than just sticking to the science.
That said, you gotta love how the movie then goes off to see whether the fabled killer bees might be the answer!
While interesting and filled with some beautiful shots taken inside living hives – as well as offering some truly fascinating insights into how colonies work – it’s difficult to escape the feeling that More Than Honey is a little manipulative and at times a tad clumsy, like an essay where the writer has got all the information but ends up being marked down for the way it’s expressed. When the film sticks to the facts it’s great – at time even slightly awe-inspiring when you realise what an incredible world bees live in – but when it starts deliberately tugging at heartstrings and going almost Gaia-esque with John Hurt’s narration, it’s both less convincing and slightly annoying. Luckily there’s enough here to keep you watching and you will come away with a bit of an education!
Overall Verdict: Loads of fascinating info on the world of the bee, the beekeeper and how intertwined they’ve become, but its manipulative moments and attempts to skirt around what we simply don’t understand yet, slightly lessens what it might have been.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac