This misanthropic movie should buzz off

More Than Honey uses dodgy stories about the decline of bees to bash humankind.

Andrea Seaman

Topics Culture

Like virtually all school pupils in Switzerland, I was recently taken by our class teacher to a local cinema to watch a documentary called More Than Honey. As we all sat down and the room darkened, our teacher stood up and hailed it the most popular and important Swiss film for a decade. The film has even been nominated for an Oscar, for best foreign-language film.

You might have assumed that More Than Honey is a film of misanthropic proportions and full of green nonsense. And you’d be right. The film tackles the problem of the apparent disappearance of bees in recent years. By doing so it also appeals to modern prejudices, using them to explain the shrinking bee populations. The arrogance with which Markus Imhoof, the director of this docu-rant, proceeds is staggering.

More Than Honey’s main concern is the disappearance and gradual extinction of the bees. Imhoof does not blame one particular thing for this: ‘It is not the pesticides, the mites, the antibiotics, the incest or the stress that is killing the bees. It’s all these factors together.’ From this he concludes: ‘The bees are dying because of the success of civilisation.’

After making this statement, he goes on to examine why the bees are not doing more to fight back against us humans. Ominously, he highlights reports of how African killer bees have allegedly killed hundreds of people. His evidence for this is slightly dubious and the idea of bees being capable of taking revenge, as Imhoof implies, is frankly ridiculous, but it is a very worrying sign that Imhoof suggests that there is justification in the ‘murder’ of humans by bees, and that it is something that we should be scared about on a global scale.

It is hard to take Imhoof, a believer in ‘swarm intelligence’, seriously after such claims. But we shall nevertheless do him the honour of venturing further into his arguments.

In a reoccurring motif, the film switches back and forth between a bio beekeeper in the Swiss Alps and an American mass-producing, migrating beekeeper. The film tries to use this contrast to portray the evil ways of the mass-producing, capitalist American against the holy, eco-friendly approach of the Swiss bio-farmer. The former manhandles the bees in horrific ways while the latter lives with the bees in perfect harmony. This contrast is maintained, despite the fact that the American farmer states that he neither likes capitalism nor the way that he is instructed to treats the bees.

While watching the American beekeeper scoop up bees as if they were industrial slurry, before letting the grey humming mass plummet into a bucket, I was a little shocked. But on further reflection it struck me that it makes no sense to get concerned about the welfare of individual bees. Despite the film’s perpetual effort to anthropomorphise the bees, the American beekeeper’s methods strike you as perfectly acceptable.

However, the most glaring problem with Imhoof’s argument is that the decline of bees has been exposed as a complete myth. Peter Neumann of the University of Bern, the world’s only dedicated professor of bee health, recently told Swiss newspaper Sonntags Blick that the honey-bee population is thriving. He says there are about a billion of them flying around in Switzerland alone, which equates to around 125 bees for every person.

That little fact aside, one of the most disturbing things about the film is Imhoof’s remarks about the Chinese. The film shows a valley in China which, in the absence of any indigenous bees, has adopted the method of pollination by human labourers instead. So far, so good. But then Imhoof interjects: ‘No other country in the world would allow itself to ask the question which is being asked at the University of Peking: “Who is the better pollinator? Humans or bees?”‘

Imhoof’s contempt for Chinese ingenuity springs, not so much from overt racism, as from his heartfelt disapproval of their rapid economic and social progress. His deep-felt prejudice against the modern world makes itself clear with an aerial shot of him on a plane looking down on a busy modern highway. As we see him looking down, he says he’s reminded of Alice in Wonderland. He then cites the chapter from the book in which Alice runs along with the Red Queen as fast as she can but does not seem to get anywhere. The Red Queen says: ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.’

This is yet another thing Imhoof gets horribly wrong. Not only is he referring to Alice Through the Looking Glass, and not Alice in Wonderland, but he misses the most important part of what the Red Queen says. If he had bothered to read on, he would have found quite a different message:

‘If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

It’s a fitting rebuff to a man and a film that only wants us bee-thwarting human beings to slow down.

Andrea Seaman is a school student in Switzerland.

Watch the trailer for More Than Honey:

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