Ever since colony collapse disorder became significant enough to receive an official-sounding name, scientists, environmentalists, and filmmakers alike have been doing their best Nicolas Cage-in-The Wicker Man impression: “Oh no, not the bees! Not the bees! AUUUGGHHHHHH!!!” Yet while Markus Imhoof's documentary More Than Honey addresses the question of the European honeybees’ mysteriously dwindling numbers (mostly concurring with a very recent study that blames neonicotinoid pesticides), it’s a film that wants to celebrate as much as doom-say. Imhoof grew up in a beekeeping family, and his love and respect for the critters is evident throughout; he somehow manages to shoot them in flight as if they were soaring eagles, complete with stunning footage of a mid-air mating session. Views from within the hive are equally impressive, as today’s micro-cameras allow for up close, personal angles that would have been impossible a generation ago. (Imhoof used lenses originally designed for invasive medical procedures.) As a nature doc, More Than Honey rivals such acclaimed forebears as Winged Migration and Microcosmos, though it’s working with a more limited scope, visually—if you’ve seen one honeybee, you’ve seen ’em all.
Still, the question remains: In the future, will it be possible to see even one? Because it's impossible to talk about bees now without worrying about their future (and, by extension, humanity’s), Imhoof gamely tackles the issue, speaking with beekeepers around the world about their struggles to retain their colonies. Some of this investigative work is strangely skimpy. He travels all the way to China, for example, where colony collapse disorder is so extreme that crops are now pollinated by human workers (!), then gives the country only about five minutes of screen time. Would it truly be an agricultural disaster if the bees all died off, as many insist, or might humans be theoretically capable of replicating their efforts? Imhoof basically just scoffs at the idea and moves on, rather than providing any information about Chinese methods and their results. The film spends much more time hanging out with an American honey merchant who works with Africanized “killer bees,” hanging on his folksy musings about how they’re likely to outlive humanity. Juxtapositions like this occasionally make More Than Honey feel a bit like a tract, but it’s never too long before footage of the little dynamos in motion take center stage again. Even if we’re as screwed as Nicolas Cage (“My eyes! My eyes! AUUUGGHHHHHH!!!”), for now we can still marvel at their industriousness.