DVD:Colony

The beauty of a documentary is it can draw you into a world of niches and esoteric interests and give you background for a conversation piece at the next diatribe on problems facing the world you should happen up.

Colony has at its disposal, a great keystone of nature to hinge its story on (that honey bees are responsible for the pollination of huge tracts of agricultural crops world-wide) which could whet any inquisitive persons appetite. Add to this that millions of bees are unexpectedly dying without reason or known cause and you have an unquestionable launching pad for a documentary. However, from the off this documentary struggles to offer a coherent and complete account. Firstly, the dynamics of the role played by bees and the industry that has grown from this (bee keepers effectively farm and sell boxes of bees to pollinate crops as part of a seasonal cycle of production) is not explained very well. Twenty minutes in, the documentary has laid out its stall – populations of bees dying, no explanation – and seems unsure how to progress the story. More time should have been taken to introduce us to the world of bee keeping and its role in the propagation of crops. The audience knows populations of bees are being decimated, we can see that bee keepers are up in arms, but the viewer is left uncertain as to why we should care.

The failure to fully portray the magnitude of the implications of this colony collapse is the documentary’s main flaw. This is perhaps not entirely of the filmmakers own doing; admittedly, in portraying the collapse of honey bee colonies, the documentary must attempt to construct a full, satisfying tale to which there is ultimately no end point as yet. However, had the documentary hit us with the serious potential effects of the collapse – barren fields, empty produce sections in supermarkets – or even ventured into all the ways that the output of pollination and tillage form part of our days, this could have been a hard-hitting piece of work. Instead, there is minimal, brief mention of these impacts and they are saved for the final few moments of running time.

The film fills its time by flitting from the perspective of a family of beekeepers, to the ramshackle lobbying response of representatives of the bee keeping industry and various talking heads pondering the causes and likely outcomes of the collapse. It by and large lets us infer our own scenarios. The predicament faced by the family at the heart of the story forms the most interesting tenet of the documentary. Whatever questions the documentary leaves unanswered it clearly puts this family in the firing line of events they cannot control and seem unprepared for. We, the objective viewer, can see the wood from the trees in a way they cannot, and fear for the short-term view they seem to take. They are dependent on an income from farming bees; the economy is crashing down around them and they are playing hardball when realistically they have very little of an upper hand. In the first year of a wider economic slump and also with the bee keeping industry hit by an unexplained crisis, the family seem naive and inexperienced in managing a business, so that you wonder what might have befallen them in the time since the documentary was made. Herein lies the story of this documentary and where it succeeds, even though much may not be spelt out on screen. The scenes showing the tensions between the family members, particularly the matriarch of the house and eldest son, and the sons attempting to negotiate contracts with producers draw you in. It does not bode well, it is the best insight into how livelihoods and industry could unfurl in light of these events.

Ultimately, this documentary does a far more able job capturing a snap shot of a family than it does creating urgency about the colony destruction or offer a piece of investigative film that would keep you drawn in. Colony tells a large story and a small story, one of an ecological phenomenon, and then captures the story of the people caught up in its ramifications. It should be prime feeding ground for facts and new perspectives, knowledge of the world of production for us consumers and give us material to observe and analyse, whether it be the moments caught by the camera unexpectedly or observances of human frailty. Colony succeeds in some aspects of this, but it feels like it is missing a third act or maybe even a follow up to answer our questions but also to show the documentary makers can pursue a query and construct a more satisfying answer.

William O’Keeffe

# Format: Colour, DVD-Video, NTSC
# Language English
# Region: Region 1
# Aspect Ratio: 4:3 – 1.33:1
# Number of discs: 1
# Classification: NR (Not Rated) (US MPAA rating. See details.)
# Studio: New Video Group
# DVD Release Date: 29 Mar 2011
# Run Time: 88 minutes

Share

Interview with 'Colony' co-director Ross McDonnell

colonyThis Film Ireland podcast recorded after the screening of  ‘Colony’ in the IFI on Friday July 23rd 2010 was chaired by the IFI’s Sunniva O’Flynn with ‘Colony’ co-director Ross McDonnell and former Green Party leader and former Minister for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent on the panel.  ‘Colony’ highlights the important role bees play in agriculture and agribusiness worldwide and the problems faced due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

In part 1 Ross reveals more about the filmmaking process including the support he got from the Irish Film Board, how he and co-director Carter Gunn got access to their subjects and his future projects.

In part 2 the panelists along with Phillip McCabe, best known for his contributions on RTÉ Radio One’s ‘Mooney Goes Wild’ and Michael Gleeson, Secretary of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers, address the ecological issues raised in the film.

Both parts of the podcast are approximately 17 minutes duration.

Colony was released in the IFI on Friday July 23rd 2010.

www.irishbeekeeping.ie

www.ifi.ie

www.irishfilmboard.ie

[display_podcast]

Share

Not Just Another Bee Movie

Colony

With Colony being released exclusively at the IFI, Ross Whitaker puts the spotlight on this bee-on-the-wall documentary with his interview with co-director Ross McDonnell.

Ross McDonnell – co-director of Colony – meets me in Dublin fresh from the Toronto International Film Festival, where the buzz around his debut feature was great.

Colony may be one of the most aesthetically beautiful documentaries of the season, as well as one of the more urgent and intelligent,’ wrote Variety.

‘The movie constitutes a satisfying addition to the blooming, buzzing field of social issue documentary,’ wrote The New York Times.

In addition to the compliments of the newspapers at Toronto, McDonnell has recently heard that his debut film will also play at IDFA, one of the world’s most important documentary festivals. But, despite these successes, his biggest concern at present is that he is smashed broke – welcome to the world of documentary filmmaking.

One hopes, though, that the financial challenges of making documentaries won’t discourage McDonnell and his co-director, Carter Gunn, from pursuing future projects in the medium. This is a mature, intelligent, informed piece of work from two young filmmakers who clearly have more to give.

Bee Gone
Colony is one of a number of bee movies that are emerging at present. These documentaries are prompted by the clear and present danger facing bees as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) leaves landscapes of empty beehives across America and beyond.

Now, those of you who spent your primary school education getting stung by bees and falling asleep in biology class might be surprised to hear that honeybees are actually quite important. Because they pollinate our plant-life, these noble, industrious creatures are central to our own survival on Earth. Einstein reputedly said that if the honeybee became extinct then man would only have four years left to live.

‘It was actually falsely attributed to him,’ McDonnell tells me. ‘It turns out that a bunch of disgruntled French beekeepers made it up and credited to him. Anyway, I read that and it’s a pretty powerful statement and I read all the statistics about the American beekeepers who ship bees back and forward across the US to pollinate every third bite you eat and I thought it was interesting material for a film.’

Bee keepers

While the film interviews numerous beekeepers, it concentrates mostly on veteran beekeeper, David Mendes, and Lance and Victor Seppi, two young brothers starting out as beekeepers in tough economic times. As Mendes campaigns on behalf of all beekeepers, the Seppi’s try to keep their own business afloat.

The Seppi family is very much the emotional epicentre of this film. The observational footage of the family’s struggles is enthralling and one of the strongest aspects of the documentary. The story of their collapsing business, affected both by the struggles of the bees and the world economy allows the filmmakers to subtly get across the message that perhaps we have more in common with bees than we realise.

‘When we met the Seppis they had seven children, they’re a home-school family and they’re actually really natural environmentalists – they live in the middle of the country, they grow their own food and they eat an almost entirely raw vegan diet. We started to think that they were a colony in their own right. We went with the thought that they were a colony, the United States was a colony and that the bees were a colony and we then looked at ways of interweaving these stories.’

Bee killers?

One of the strengths of the film is its openness to all sides of the story. While CCD could have catastrophic effects on nature and society, nobody is fully sure what has caused the problem. Rather than standing back and pointing the finger at pesticide manufacturers, the filmmakers patiently pursued access to the corporation and let them put forward their side of the story. It turns out they might not be to blame.

Perhaps we are all to blame. One is left with the feeling that bees are more important than we realise, that our cavalier attitude towards them might lead to their demise and that our tendency to undervalue their importance might lead to a reduction in the beekeepers that look after them.

Colony is a tribute to what can be done with time, talent and a little money. Gunn and McDonnell spent the guts of two years immersed in the project, with McDonnell on camera and Gunn taking care of the edit. The film is stunningly shot and the two-man team clearly made the effort to develop the relationships and access necessary to tell the story well.

‘If I can draw a parallel with feature filmmaking, what we wanted was to see the change come from within our characters. We were very lucky that we were given the time and the support to be able to see the change over time in our subjects and in the story. We were fortunate that the Irish Film Board and our producers at Fastnet Films gave us the support to do that. They never said, “where are you going with this?” They were with us the whole way along.’

They all should be proud of this clever, powerful film.

Colony is being exclusively released at the IFI from the 23–29 July 2010, visit www.ifi.ie for details.

Share

‘Colony’ exclusively released at IFI

New Irish documentary, Colony, will be exclusively released at the IFI from July 23rd with co-director Ross McDonnell present to take part in a Q&A after the opening night screening.

Highlighting the collapse of global honeybee populations due to the little-understood Colony Collapse Disorder; Colony is Dubliner Ross McDonnell and Brooklyn-based Carter Gunn’s debut documentary, for Fastnet Films.

Tickets are available from the IFI Box Office in person, telephone 01 679 3477, or online at www.ifi.ie

Share

Issue 131 – Not Just Another Bee Movie

colony
'Colony'

Ross Whitaker puts the spotlight on Colony.

Ross McDonnell – co-director of Colony – meets me in Dublin fresh from the Toronto International Film Festival, where the buzz around his debut feature was great.

Colony may be one of the most aesthetically beautiful documentaries of the season, as well as one of the more urgent and intelligent,’ wrote Variety.

‘The movie constitutes a satisfying addition to the blooming, buzzing field of social issue documentary,’ wrote The New York Times.

In addition to the compliments of the newspapers at Toronto, McDonnell has recently heard that his debut film will also play at IDFA, one of the world’s most important documentary festivals. But, despite these successes, his biggest concern at present is that he is smashed broke – welcome to the world of documentary filmmaking.

One hopes, though, that the financial challenges of making documentaries won’t discourage McDonnell and his co-director, Carter Gunn, from pursuing future projects in the medium. This is a mature, intelligent, informed piece of work from two young filmmakers who clearly have more to give.

Bee Gone
Colony is one of a number of bee movies that are emerging at present. These documentaries are prompted by the clear and present danger facing bees as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) leaves landscapes of empty beehives across America and beyond.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.

Share