More Than Honey (2012) Documentary Film. Director : Markus Imhoof


Man is the antagonist. Most beekeepers love their animals but caught in economic necessity they have to demand peak performance. That applies for the charming Austrian queen breeder Heidrun Singer as well as to the American beekeeper John Miller, who sends his 15.000 colonies all over the continent, following the bloom of economic plants. Beebroker John Traynor pulls the strings. He negotiates between farmers, beekeepers and the global market – which rules over plant, men, animal and machine alike.

In a frightening similarity they all succumbed to its all embracing power. The bees are confronted with new challenges all the time, having to take on new burdens. What we mistake for nature turns out to be a contaminated agricultural wasteland. But even the paradise of the Alps offers no respite: Fred Jaggi kills bees that are not purebred – whilst the pure races die from centuries of inbreeding. The longer the film observes man and bee, the more likely it seems that this live, determined by outside forces, must end in a catastrophe…(Mubi)

After 15 years of absence, Swiss director Markus Imhoof (Das Boot ist voll) is back with a documentary that exceeds all expectations, and not only in the box office. More Than Honey [trailerfilm focus] is a deeply disturbing work, which benefits from lucid narration.

According to the words of industrial beekeeper John Miller, we could be facing “Death on an epic scale”. For the past few years, he has observed the disappearance of bees on a global scale, and his own hives are no exception. Miller does things on a grand scale, transporting his bees by truck across the United States to then set them free in huge plantations, of almonds for example. “What you hear is the sound of money,” he says happily, listening to the buzzing sound coming from a flowery landscape, almost surreal, which stretches as far as the eye can see. Nevertheless, these long trips are a great source of stress for the insects, which are not made for monocultures and suffer from the pesticides. But that is not enough to prevent Miller from pursuing his intensive breeding – despite a few pangs of conscience, he will not give up his business.

MoreThan Honey is much more than a captivating study of nature, stunning in its use of macro shots. With the meticulous skill of a detective, Markus Imhoof investigates the causes of the disappearance of bees and familiarizes the spectator with their highly complex social life. As the descendant of a family of beekeepers himself, his endeavour takes him around the world, from Europe to China, and through Australia. He there meets his daughter, who, with her husband, is carrying out research on the immune system of bees, with the hope of developing a new breed with higher chances of survival.

Like the majority of good documentaries, More Than Honey owes a great deal to its protagonists. We therefore get to know John Miller, who, while pinpointing the inherent contradictions in his own activity, still appears as likable. At the other end of the spectrum, we discover Fred Jaggi, a beekeeper from central Switzerland, who tries to preserve the purity of the local breed, and two Austrian breeders who send queen bees by post all over the world.

More Than Honey (Markus Imhoof, 2012) Switzerland, Germany, Austria

Reviewed by Lynn Montgomery. Viewed at SBIFF.

More Than Honey is more than a documentary about bees, it’s a monumental indictment about the very future of mankind.

Albert Einstein said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.” Academy Award nominated Director, Markus Imhoof, has created a sensational film that everyone should see. I took so many notes during the screening that at some point I just made myself stop, because I didn’t want to miss anymore of Imhoof’s state-of-the-art-filmmaking.  He took 200 hours of film and edited it down to 90 minutes.  It is a dazzling virtuoso of “how in the world did they get that shot?!” filmmaking.

Imhoof comes from a beekeeping family. Bees are in his blood. And after seeing this movie they are in mine, too. Maybe they always were. I don’t know what that means, exactly, only that we owe our very existence to bees. I love to garden. I have a native garden that has never known insecticides. It teems with bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.

I even have a chicken coop. My husband drew the line after the chicken coop. I guess you could say it was a beeline. I wanted bees. My neighbor, Gloria, who is the Ethyl to my Lucy, said she’d do bees, too. Both husbands, in other words, Ricky and Fred, said, “LUCY!” And that is why I don’t have a beehive. Of course, Lucy would have just gone out and gotten the hive, then been attacked by a stinging swarm, get allergic and swell to the size of a mama bear and apologize to Ricky for not listening to him in the first place.

That is not the way things roll on our block. Me and Ethyl will get our hives. And we’re so good that we’ll convince Fred and Ricky  it was their idea all along.

But I digress. However, there is an important point to be made with this Lucy story. Honeybees are not native to the Americas. The settlers brought them. We do have native bees. California is home to more than 1,600 species of native bees. Most are solitary in nature, don’t build hives, and don’t produce honey or wax for human consumption. But they are 200 times more efficient at pollination than honey bees! Pollinating an acre of apples requires 60,000-120,000 honey bees. That same area can be pollinated by 250-750 mason bees – the very kind of bees Lucy and Ethyl would like to keep in their backyard, eventually… soon.

More Than Honey is a call to wings. We learn that 80% of the almonds in the world are grown in California. 100% of those almonds depend on honeybees for pollination. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of honeybees are farmed in giant putrid petri dish-like hives that are packaged and transported across the country in semi trucks from the Almond orchards of California to the apple farms in Washington, to the honey-making factories in North Dakota.

It is a barbaric indentured servitude that is causing total colony collapse disorder. Not only do the living quarters and transport systems decimate the bees, they’re also subjected to deadly dousings of pesticides that lead to   parasitic varroa mites.

There are many reasons to see this film:  One, you will be outraged when the almond growers and bee farmers scratch their heads and say they don’t really know what is causing this problem; and two, you will say how did they get those absolutely breathtaking shots of bees in mid flight, shots of bees at work in the hive, Queens being born, drones dying? We are all a little immune to the wonders of nature photography. We have all seen the Discovery Channel and PBS ad infinitum.  But this is something more. Beautiful and cataclysmic. Rent it. see it. Then build a backyard hive and tell Ricky I said so.