"More Than Honey" is an extraordinarily shot but meandering survey of the world's bee population: how they work (and boy, do they ever), why they're critical to the survival of many ecosystems, and the possible reasons they've been dwindling in alarming numbers. Producer-director Markus Imhoof tackles a hugely vital subject, but the film's loose structure and lack of a specific through-line don't make for the clearest intake of its, well, swarm of information.
The Swiss-born Imhoof, whose canner grandfather's fruit gardens and orchards were sustained by honeybees (and whose daughter and son-in-law, seen here, are bee researchers), travels to the United States, Europe, China and Australia capturing ways in which bees are bred, transported and industrialized and how their honey is harvested. En route, we meet an eclectic array of beekeepers and scientists, each with his own distinctive approach to handling the little fellas — and those essential queen bees — often based on environmental conditions, economic pressures and local or familial traditions.
Most startling, however, is a visit to northern China, where heavy pesticide use has seemingly led to a virtual disappearance of bees, a.k.a. colony collapse disorder, forcing peasants to laboriously pollinate fields of blossoms by hand.
Oblique narrative aside, you can't beat the film's eye-popping visuals. Cinematographer Jörg Jeshel, utilizing high-speed cameras and endoscopic micro lenses — and no CGI effects — brings us so staggeringly up close and personal to the bee world, 3-D would be redundant.
"More Than Honey"
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In German, Swiss-German, English and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Saturday and Sunday mornings only at Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.