QUEEN OF THE SUN: What are the Bees Telling Us? is a profound, alternative look at the global bee crisis from Taggart Siegel, acclaimed director of THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN. Taking us on a journey through the catastrophic disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive, this engaging and ultimately uplifting film weaves an unusual and dramatic story of the heartfelt struggles of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world including Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk and Vandana Shiva. Together they reveal both the problems and the solutions in renewing a culture in balance with nature.
We were excited to hear that the film was premiering near Stonyfield headquarters tomorrow night (May 25th) at 7:00 p.m. at The Music Hall and connected with director Taggart Siegel to learn more about his motivations for making the film, his experience working so closely with the bees, and his thoughts on what we can all do to help.
1.What inspired you to take on Colony Collapse Disorder as a subject for a film?
In the fall of 2007, books and magazines articles had surfaced into the mainstream about Colony Collapse Disorder and the decline of honeybees. These articles frightened me, especially after reading a disputed quote by Einstein that stated, “If bees disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.” Whether or not Einstein said it or not, the core of this statement is absolutely true, that humans are fundamentally dependent on bees and pollinators. I had finished touring with The Real Dirt on Farmer John where I had started to get deeper into the world of bees, and I realized, I wanted to share with audiences the amazing, mysterious world of the honeybee and the tragic consequences of bees disappearing from the surface of the earth.
What also sparked me also to make Queen of the Sun was my 3 year old daughter, Olive. Imagining her (or anybody) living in a world without flowers, fruits, vegetables, and even some forests that are dependent on pollinators, woke me up to the crisis. That was the greatest need for me, and I seized the moment and embarked on the crazy journey of making a film.
2. Was it difficult to find people who knew enough/cared enough about the issue to be feature in the film? How did you find these people?
Documentary filmmaking is a messy business, you don’t always find everyone in a neat order. I often look for characters that live in the margins of society, and are often harder to find. Voices who have the capacity and audacity to look at the long-term issues and the big picture of our planet. These are the philosophers as well as the scientists who seek a deeper truth and are not caught up in the the status quo.
My initial inspiration to find the right subjects for Queen of the Sun came out of reading seven lectures by Rudolf Steiner on honeybees. Steiner was a philosopher, scientist and teacher who introduced a system of biodynamic farming, beekeeping and inspired the Waldorf school system. His lecture was presented to beekeepers in Europe in the 1920s and he is quoted as saying that, if we continue the practices of mechanized or industrialized beekeeping, including artificial queen breeding, that bees will die off in 80-100 years. That time is now, and we’re seeing the devastation of CCD.
Because of these insights, even though there are thousands of beekeepers in the world, I specifically chose to find subjects who could speak into biodynamic and organic beekeeping practices as well as the heartfelt scientists and experts who could speak into these same long-term issues such as industrial beekeepings effect on bees. Tracking down these characters is an all consuming endeavour and not always what you expect, but it’s an important part of the journey.
Even though I knew I was going to be filming around the world, I started with Gunther Hauk, a world-reknowned biodynamic beekeeper in the United States, who follows in the footsteps of Rudolf Steiner. I realized I had found a key spokesperson that could guide the essence of the film. I then built up many other colorful beekeepers, including Yvon Achard, who tickles his bees with his mustache. Even though beekeepers and the bees are the core of the film, I also found a chorus of scientists, authors, and philosophers, (many through Alice Waters’ Slow Food Nation) such as Michael Pollan, Carlo Petrini, Vandana Shiva, Jeffrey Smith and Raj Patel all who contributed vital perspectives regarding industrial agriculture.
3. How did you feel working so closely with bees? Did you get stung?
Working with bees sparked my imagination on so many levels but most of all my heart seemed to open up to this little insect that I had no connection with before. On the whole I felt reverential being around honeybees and respected the wisdom of the hive and felt I was experiencing something magnificent in nature that spoke very deeply to my soul. The beehive is a “super organism” meaning that the 20 or 30,000 bees in a beehive is one being. A single bee can’t survive on it’s own. It’s an understanding of these aspects of the beehive through making Queen of the Sun that really created a deep sense of wonder and awe for nature that sticks with me daily.
I had my moments of fear, working with an animal that can sting you and possibly kill you. It’s not fun getting stung. A lot of the fear is stored in the long term memory of the brain that never forgets the times you’ve been stung in the past. I took my clues from the biodynamic and organic beekeepers. They often don’t wear gear so I figured I didn’t need to either Most of the time I didn’t wear protection with the bees. I learned to stay calm, not make quick abrupt moves, to wear light clothing, not to eat a lot of garlic or wear flowery deodorants and most of all, I learned to respect the bees. After being around millions of bees without protection I realized they are not out to sting you (they die when they sting you). If you can handle a few stings, you’ll also see that they are giving you a poison that stimulates your immune system and can actually help with arthritis.
4.What are your hopes for audience reaction to the film? Do you think it will truly make a lasting impact?
My hopes are to inspire an audience to fall in love with honeybees, to alter the way people think and feel about this small insect that contributes so much to the planet. Beyond that, I hope Queen of the Sun encourages people to take action to do something, small or large, about the crisis we’re in.
This film is very timeless and I hope that QUEEN OF THE SUN will continue to affect people 5, 10, 50 years from now as a film that inspires a love for the planet and for the bees. Hopefully we will rise above this crisis, but even then, we cannot forget about the bees critical role bees play to keep us alive. By appreciating honeybees is a way of giving thanks to them and who knows one might become a beekeeper.
As Gunther Hauk says, “Bees are the nurturers of life on earth and our lives depend upon them.”
5. Can anyone in the world really be a bee keeper? And would this help the situation?
In 1923, Rudolf Steiner said: “Every human being should show the greatest interest in beekeeping because our lives depend upon it.”
I think beekeeping is very accessible. I’ve really enjoyed being a beekeeper. But socially it can be difficult, because there is a lot of fear around bees. People have watched to many horror films about the Attack of the Killer Bees. To be a beekeeper, you don’t have to have a lot of space, it doesn’t cost a great of money and it’s not very time-consuming. But those people who can’t become beekeepers can plant flowers & herbs and become a keeper of bees in their own way, by providing a habitat for bees to thrive in. It’s this combination of beekeepers and rich pesticide-free habitat that would do such much to reverse the situation we are in with Colony Collapse Disorder. It really would make an immense difference.
I love the quote in Queen of the Sun from a London Rooftop Beekeeper who works in the construction business. He says: “And this is Hackney in London. This is what people can do. People say that they can’t keep bees. They’re lying. And look at that side, dripping with honey. These girlies (bees) here are putting everything back into the environment. Not me. I’m just helping them and I just think it is so rewarding.”
6. What can the public do to help Colony Collapse Disorder?
We have a dedicated page on our website to provide ways everyone can be part of the solution.
Here’s a few good points to get started with:
1. Plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden and yard.
2. Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden.
3. Buy local, raw honey from a beekeeper who treats his bees with respect.
4. Bees are thirsty, put a small basin of fresh water outside of your home.
5. Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know.
6. Sign Pesticide Action Network’s Petition to urge the EPA to ban bee-killing pesticides.
7. Visit YourGardenShow.com’s Citizen Science Project and count bees in your yard to help provide research to scientists that are working to help save the bees.