Taggart Siegel’s documentary Queen Of The Sun is a fine enough piece of work, but it’s a shame Werner Herzog didn’t get to Gunther Hauk first. Hauk’s main function is to warn viewers about the pending catastrophe of colony collapse disorder, where large numbers of honeybees suddenly and inexplicably vanish. But Hauk, a protégé of the anthroposophist philosopher Rudolf Steiner, values bees for reasons beyond the fact that without them to spread pollen from plant to plant, some 40 percent of our food supply would cease to exist. At one point, he muses how worker bees, who live in the darkness of the hive, are nourished by pollen, which he calls a form of crystallized light. Among their products, he continues, is beeswax, which humans harvest and use to provide light in the dark. Scratch a beekeeper, it seems, and you’ll find a thinker, although not all the apiarists to whom Siegel donates screen time are quite so successfully profound.
Queen Of The Sun follows two not-quite-parallel tracks, one marshaling evidence targeting industrial agriculture as the culprit for vanishing bees, the other exploring the spiritual resonance of their connection to nature, and the connection forged by those lucky humans who interact with them. Not a few of Siegel’s subjects run wild with the anthropomorphic approach inherent in the film’s subtitle; one brushes his wiry mustache against a comb crawling with honeybees and smiles, “They like it.”
Individually, each approach bears fruit. Omnivore’s Dillema author Michael Pollan and environmental activist Vandana Shiva—either of whom could at this point quit their day jobs and devote themselves full-time to appearing in like-minded documentaries—describe the horrors of monoculture, particularly the 600,000 acres of central California devoted exclusively to the industrial almond crop. With nothing to feed on most of the year, bees would die in such an environment, so huge numbers are imported from all over the world for the sole purpose of fertilizing the crop, in the process exposing them to pathogens unknown in their native habitats. On the spiritualist side, the searing colors of Siegel’s photography bear ample witness to the richness of the natural world, while a rooftop beekeeper in the Bronx testifies to how the process has enriched her life. The trouble is that the two strands don’t mesh particularly well. The airy bits weaken its polemical urgency, and the exposition dampens the spiritual uplift. There’s half of two good films in Queen Of The Sun, but they’re not quite the same film.