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Voice of the beehive

ROSS MCDONNELL: The initial spark for the film came from a friend who alerted me to the fact that honeybees were dying and nobody knew why.

When I began to follow the news reports from the US that billions of honeybees were simply deserting their hives, never to be seen again, it sounded like something from the plot of a science-fiction film.

I wrote up a treatment to go out and investigate what was happening.

PB: What drew you to the Seppi family?

RMD: We first met Lance and Victor Seppi, the two brothers, at a local beekeepers' meeting in California. We filmed them during the meeting before we actually had a chance to chat with them. Lance is about six foot five and Victor not far behind him and they had this incredible look, like something from The Grapes of Wrath, something truly American.

RMD: While the Seppi family are definitely in that bracket of Conservative American Christians, for us, as film-makers, that was not really the story at hand. They're a hugely open and curious family, and ultimately their story is the story about what all families go through in order to survive and prosper.

RMD: The honeybee and the commercial beekeeping industry is a vital part of food production in the US, pollinating directly and indirectly every third bite of food that we eat. Agri-business has replaced agriculture in the United States, with huge tracts of single crop farms and a guiding principle of monoculture taking over the farming industry.

With the world's population set to double in the next 50 years or so, the problem is one of food supply: how we're going to feed ourselves? I worry about the idea of a natural balance in our ecosystem.

PB: The belief seems to be that people won't truly care about such disasters until they see half-empty shelves at their local supermarket. Was that part of your reason for making Colony?

RMD: One of the much-touted phrases during the making of Colony was that the disappearing honeybee represented a kind of canary in the coal mine, that the dying bees represented the beginning of the end for the survival of other species and, ultimately, ourselves.

I think that was a great starting point for the film but ultimately we wanted to explore the issue and also to make people aware about what goes in to putting food on the table.

PB: What's up next for you guys? Has Jerry Bruckheimer been calling?

RMD: Jerry hasn't called just yet, but if he's interested in an amazing film about heroic honeybees battling the forces of evil, we're the guys to make it happen . . .

Colony opens at the IFI tomorrow for one week. The directors will be present for a Q&A following tomorrow's 6.10pm screening


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