“Bee Panic” in Abu Dhabi city?

With American filmmaker Taggart Siegel’s film about the effects of the declining population of honey bees on human life screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival this year, the “bee panic” has finally reached us in the Middle East. Or maybe not?

Stills from Queen of the Sun, What are the bees telling us?

Stills from Queen of the Sun, What are the bees telling us?

According to Einstein (or maybe it was not him who said it after all?), if the honey bee became extinct then man would only have four years left to live. In 2002, 40% of German bee colonies died. In 2006, 50% of bees in the USA died and according to all the “bee articles” I have read it has been downhill from then on.

But is not having more honey worth all this fuss? According to bee experts, as bees pollinate our plant-life, if they are gone then 40% of our food will be gone as well. So the world freaked out; are we going to die? Ok, not the whole world – we in the Middle East have too many wars right now to worry about bees. Tens of Western filmmakers have started the trend of “bee docs” – take for example The Last Beekeeper by Jeremy Simmons, To Bee or not to Bee by David Suzuki, The Last of Honey Bees by Jeremy Simmons, Vanishing of the Bees by George Langworthy and Maryam Henein and Colony by Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn, to name a few. The latter focuses on the human rather than the scientific or environmental angle of the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), or in other words the declining population of honey bees.

With Taggart Siegel’s Queen of the Sun, What are the bees telling us?, screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival this year, the “bee panic” has finally reached here. While most bee films create fear and anxiety, Siegel tries to touch the heart of viewers in his lighthearted and at some points even funny film. “Without inspiration, audiences will leave the theatre depressed and we won’t overcome the issues facing the honey bees,” the film’s co-editor and producer Jon Betz said. The film does include talking heads and lots of scientific information. Nonetheless, the animations, lively characters and hair-raising art scenes that Siegel incorporated in his film make it more accessible.

It is also clearly an activist film. That said, in spite of his obvious passion for bees, Siegel resists being too pushy and imposing solutions on how the viewers should save bees. Instead, he follows the typical American film recipe of a happy ending by presenting a cheerful image of what is being done for the “insects in distress”. Betz does hope though that their film will push the audience into action:

“It is tough to achieve change on a large scale, but by raising awareness you are actually achieving some change. If you choose not to eat pesticide-treated food, for example, that’s already a kind of activism.”

He has reason to be optimistic – in previous screenings, he has seen some of his audience members crying for the bees, and when after the screening he asked the audience his favourite question: “Now who wants to become a beekeeper?”, many hands were raised. But how many hands will be raised at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival? I doubt that people would be bothered, although according to expert consultant Gunther Hauk, they should be.

“We are seeing changes in climate but I think the Colony Collapse Disorder and the disappearance of the honey bee is a much more pressing, urgent problem to solve”, the expert says in Queen of the Sun,What are the bees telling us?.

For someone like me coming from a region that has been severely affected by climate change, this is rather shocking. Let’s face it though, with the growing political tension and economic concerns, environmental issues aren’t a priority for Arab audiences. So even if the film has a full house for its first international film premiere in Abu Dhabi, I doubt that there will be any “would-be beekeepers” crying.

This article was published in Nisimazine Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi film festival’s daily bulletin by NISI MASA.

Download pdf version here.

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