Around the world, honeybees have been mysteriously disappearing in a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. And in January, the National Academy of Sciences reported that four species of wild bumblebees have declined by 96 percent. Independent documentary Vanishing of the Bees (narrated by Oscar-nominated actress Ellen Page, with a cameo by Michael Pollan) tells the full story. We caught up with filmmakers Maryam Henein and George Langworthy, who interviewed American beekeepers (from big commercial outfits to small biodynamic beekeepers) and scientists pursuing the causes of CCD.
How bad has Colony Collapse Disorder become?
MH: This is the fourth year in a row that commercial beekeepers who truck bees around the country for pollination have lost a third or more of their bees. Honeybees pollinate 90 percent of the fruits and vegetables we eat—everything from avocados to zucchini.
Any new theories on what’s causing CCD?
GL: Many factors are hurting bees and there’s a lot of controversy over whether the disappearance is linked to pesticides. Around the world, the die-offs began when systemic pesticides, which poison insects’ nervous systems, were introduced. As we show in the movie, bee die-offs happened in France nearly 10 years ago, causing beekeepers to push for a restriction on using the once-popular systemic pesticide clothianidin, now also banned in Germany.
How do you see this and other bee films helping?
MH: More than a movie, this is a movement. We’re encouraging people to host screenings and invite beekeepers for a lively debate. Our grassroots engagement campaign, entitled Bee the Change, is outlined on our website, vanishingbees.com. We were recently approached by the United Nations to show the movie in Brussels. The good news: we’re starting to see more interest in urban beekeeping, organic produce and the planting of bee-friendly gardens.
Since making this movie have you started keeping bees?
MH: Yes, I kept bees at my house in Hollywood until the cops shut me down and we moved them to George’s place. GL: Fortunately, many cities—New York, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco—are starting to allow beekeeping, reflecting a huge surge in interest. MH: As beekeeper Simon Buxton says in our movie, “The future of bees is not in one beekeeper with 60,000 hives, but with 60,000 people each keeping one hive.”