Bees have been stung with something of a bad reputation, but they make a big contribution to life on earth by pollinating plants. And the people behind the documentary Bee People are out to prove that bees deserve a better image....and a better chance at survival.
See also: - The Brown Palace is buzzing over honey bees - Under a Spell - A telling documentary reveals the sting of bees. - Hive Anxiety - To bee or not to bee? Denver's zoning department just answered that question.
Denver-based analysis consultant and technology writer Leslie Ellis became a beekeeper in 2011, and has wanted to educate people on the subject ever since. She took beekeeping classes at To Bee or Not to Bee, and met the owner of Rocky Mountain Bee Removal, Gregg "The Bee Guru" McMahan. "As I was meeting these people who are into bees, I realized they're all kind of crazy, but in a good way," Ellis says.
So she approached David Knappe, a director, producer and editor, with the idea of making a documentary about bees. Knappe agreed and came to Colorado, where he and Ellis began to shoot various beekeepers, including an eleven-year-old beekeeping apprentice and Dennis Meyer, owner of Das Meyer Bakery, who is deathly allergic to bees but still wants to help. "When Gregg asked [Meyer], 'Why are we putting a beehive on your property?' he said, 'I like to live on the edge,'" Knappe recalls.
One of the subjects of the film is New York's Bee Cop, Tony "Bees" Planakis, an officer with the New York Police Department. "He just loves the bees," Knappe says. "It's something that he learned from his father at a very early age." Whenever there is a bee-related situation in the New York area, Planakis is the go-to guy.
Ellis and Knappe wanted bee icons Planakis and McMahan to meet for the film. So Knappe crashed a NYC Beekeepers Association meeting to try and get Planakis on board. "He was a little resistant at first," Knappe remembers. "I called him back after a big, successful week of shooting and I said it would be really great if we could put these two guys together."
Planakis eventually agreed, and in the film he and McMahan are shown working on a mysterious hive removal and honey extraction. "I see these two guys solve this mystery together, and it was like they were long lost bee-brothers," Knappe says.
Continue reading for a look at Bee People.
Aside from sharing stories of expert and amateur beekeepers, the film also focuses on creating awareness of Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been decimating the bee population. "Since 2006, commercial beekeepers have been losing 60 to 75 percent of their hives. [The bees] disappear and don't come back, and nobody knows why," Ellis explains.
When they took their cameras to the streets, they discovered that a number of people already knew about the issue. "The reactions were always priceless and comical, and also a lot of people had very deep things to say about what's going on with Colony Collapse Disorder," Knappe says. "It was a pleasant surprise to learn that people had this on their radar."
One of the proposed solutions to the bee decline is to have beehive every two miles. A bee's flying radius is three miles, so backyard hives would basically give them somewhere to crash. Ellis and Knappe want to encourage viewers to become backyard keepers by showing ordinary people who have caught the "bee fever." Says Knappe: "We hope the film reaches people to invest in a new hobby, to think, 'I can give a home to one to two hives and make difference.'"
And that should take the sting out of getting stung, an an occupational hazard. "If you're a beekeeper, you're going to get stung," Ellis acknowledges.
The first screening of the film was last month at the John Malone Theater at the Cable Center, and many in the audience caught the bee fever. "At the beginning of the movie, we asked how many wanted to become beekeepers," Ellis says. The response was tepid. "At the end of the movie we asked again, and double the hands went up."
Although there are no other screenings scheduled right now, Ellis and Knappe have entered the film in about fifteen local and national film festivals, including the Boulder Film Festival and the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, and they plan to enter Bee People in five to ten more festivals as the new film season begins. For a low-budget, independent film -- Ellis used her frequent-flier miles to bring Knappe to Colorado and to fly McMahan to New York to meet Planakis -- festivals are a great way to get the word out, Knappe says.
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