Review: Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us? (2010)

Posted by Jessica Finch March 20, 2013 1 Comment 10201 views

It’s a documentary about the honeybee, but it’s not your typical nature film. Queen of the Sun is a quasi existentialist examination of the decline of the honeybee through a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. The thesis of the film is in its title: What are the bees telling us? And unfortunately, the answer is that bees are dying, rapidly. Before watching this film I had never really considered that the issues facing farm animals, like inhumane living conditions and the over mechanization of agriculture would affect the honeybee. But of course over mechanization in one part of the agro industry will invariably have impacts down the line.

In that vein, Queen of the Sun also touches on the genetic modification of bees, which apparently includes artificial insemination of the Queen. This disturbing fact really highlighted the extent of human, and scientific, influence on the natural world today. In nature, the Queen would fly almost 600 feet up towards the sun (hence the name of the film) and the drones would follow, and they would, you know, do their thing. But today the Queen is sedated and injected with drone sperm, which is barbaric beyond words. This point in the film got me really angry at the bee scientists (leave those bees alone, damn it!) and got me to side with the underdog (underbee).

The film is filled with colourful characters (beekeepers are a weird bunch) explaining the plight of the honeybee as it struggles against monoculture farming in the US, and commercial beekeeping interests. One such character is Gunther Hauk, a biodynamic beekeeper and all around champion of the honeybee. In my opinion, his story is the most interesting part of the film and his journey should have been more prominent. Gunther was so moved by the decline of the American honeybee that he set up his own bee sanctuary, called Spikenard Farm, in Virginia. As he describes it, getting Spikenard off the ground was not an easy feat, and it would have been great if the film had chronicled his journey (perhaps that’s a separate documentary in itself: “Gunther’s Journey”).

For all the doom and gloom about the honeybee the film does showcase the positives, like Gunther’s bee sanctuary and the rise of so called ‘rooftop beekeepers.’ These are beekeepers in urban settings (New York, mostly) that are keeping bees in their backyards and, yes, on their rooftops. And while it’s inspiring to know that honey is being produced on Manhattan rooftops, it’s not entirely clear how the bees can be kept alive in such settings over the long term.

Queen of the Sun is a fairly linear documentary, but every so often it drifts into existential tangents that feel a little out of place. The tangents stem from several of the beekeepers strong philosophies about bees. For instance, the thought that bees are sacred, and that the hexagonal shapes they create in their hives have a connection with the earth’s core (what?). The film has narrative tangents, but also stylistic ones too; occasionally drifting into brief animated sequences for no reason. It gives the whole film a slightly trippy quality, that’s interesting, but I’m not sure that’s what the director Taggart Siegel was going for. If you like metaphors, then the bees are earth loving hippies, and commercial beekeeping is the ‘man’ that’s hell-bent on destroying the natural order of the hive. It’s deep stuff, man! I would recommend this film for anyone who supports nature’s underdogs – or underbees.

Gallery of Images from Queen of the Sun

Watch the trailer for Queen of the Sun


About Jessica Finch

Jessica Finch is an avid writer and film enthusiast who has been contributing documentary reviews for Pretty Clever Films since March 2013. She is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Radio & Television Arts program and has worked as a freelance producer and production designer on short films and music videos. Jessica currently works as a sales coordinator at Achilles Media, an events management company in Toronto.

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There is 1 Comment

  1. Brandy Dean
    - March 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    If you’re interested in this doc or this topic, you might also what to check out this recent piece from The Walrus.

    Turns out colony collapse in domesticated and farmed bees is only a tiny piece of the problem.

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