Vanishing Of The Bees DVD review

Jenny checks out a brilliant documentary that doesn't pull its punches...

Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.” Well, we think he did. Nobody can actually find where he said it. But it doesn’t look great. No bees, no pollination, no crops, no food…d’oh!

Regardless of what might be right, wrong or otherwise in the world of soundbites, there is no doubt that bees do very much appear to be disappearing. Imagine a world without honey, apples, broccoli, onions, melon, citrus fruits, tea and chocolate and apparently you’re not even a tiny fraction towards the catastrophic effect this might have.

This documentary tells the bizarre tale of various American beekeepers who woke up to discover that their hives had emptied, literally, overnight. In one case, it was enough to turn his acres of land into a surreal graveyard. The sight of a man tossing his entire livelihood onto a bonfire and lighting a match will, honestly, get to you.

Narrated by Emilia Fox (better known as Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness), we follow the story of David Hackenburg and Dave Mendes as they try to save their businesses and work out just what’s going on. They appeal to the President, talk to the French and British and spend, literally, hours driving their bees around the country to pollinate wherever the flowers happen to be opening.

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This is serious – the hives are transported on gigantic lorries from Florida to California to Maine and back to Florida, just because there aren’t enough bees to go around. It almost defies belief.

There are copious interviews with people who think they might have the solution, and they all seem to be right. There’s mobile phone signals interrupting bees’ navigation systems, once a theory which covered the front pages of UK newspapers. There’s the utterly horrifying revelation that, in certain areas, bees are fed with sugary water in place of their real food, which only provides empty calories that makes them weak and susceptible to disease. There are nasty mites which are getting into hives and feeding off the unhatched larvae in the honeycombs.

And then there’s the use of pesticides, which makes bees behave so strangely that they can’t even find their way around a flower to do what they need to do. This is focussed on in a section covering the history of chemical crop dusting, and if you’re not terrified at the future of the planet by the end of it, you weren’t watching properly.

I learnt so much from this film that it was almost an honour to be able to see it. It pulls no punches whilst managing to remain pretty much impartial, and there’s absolutely no indication that it was actually funded by the Co-Operative chain of supermarkets until you get to the extras. They’ve teamed up with the British Beekeepers’ Association to help research the problem, being perfectly honest that, while they want to save the planet, they also know it’s not good for their fruit- and veg-based business for there to be no fruit or veg.

There are a couple of moments where you’ll want to look away. The part where somebody with a Professorship in Woolly Studies (or something) goes on about the ‘sacred feminine’ is out of place in an otherwise hard-hitting and very grounded production, and seeing bees being artificially inseminated (no, REALLY) is…well, horrible. But the rest of it will intrigue and educate you in equal measure, making use of clever animations, a plethora of fact, and an outstanding soundtrack.

The disc contains the full-length documentary, a shorter Co-Op short about British beekeeping (filmed in Manchester) and some very short bits and bobs about beekeeping around the world. You might well need to watch it twice to take it all in.

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5 stars

Vanishing Of The Bees is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


5 out of 5