Movies: Colony * * * *
Filmed on location in America by Dubliner Ross McDonnell and Brooklyn-based director Carter Gunn, Colony is one of those rare documentaries that manages to make a potentially dry subject fascinating.
The subject in question is a mysterious plague in the US bee population that has wiped out a third of their number. 'Colony Collapse Disorder', as it's been called, isn't just a problem for the bees. As McDonnell and Gunn's film makes clear, agriculture in the US and elsewhere depends hugely on the insects' industrious pollination.
All sorts of crops from apples to blueberries would be devastated without the bee, and in Colony we meet the travelling beekeepers who crisscross the United States transporting hives of hardworking pollinators.
Thanks to the mysterious ailment their livelihoods are now threatened, and most of them point the finger of blame at chemical giants like Bayer whose pesticides may be killing bees as well as bugs. McDonnell and Gunn certainly seem to think so, and at various times their beautifully photographed documentary juxtaposes images of crop spraying with shots of recently departed bees.
But not everyone thinks the puzzle is so simple.
One wise old beekeeper and biologist suggests the culprit may just be one of the predatory bugs or contagious diseases that regularly afflict the bee population.
Whatever the cause, the situation is bad enough to result in tentative talks between the beekeepers and Bayer.
In Colony, we get an insight into what draws people to this difficult life, which has its rewards as well as its hardships. And you come away with the distinct impression that America's super-sized farming methods are placing too many demands on the humble honeybee.