Bee true

The documentaries of Berlin and Beyond

Redemption Impossible

FILM It's January, and our premiere German language film festival, Berlin and Beyond, is back to its rightful place on the cinematic calendar after a year off for regrouping, kicking off the neues Jahr with films from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland — as well as Turkey and France.

It's not a bad way to begin 2014, unless your resolutions happen to be cutting back on bier and weltschmertz. Even though the B&B selections feel a bit dated — thanks, perhaps, to that one-year hiatus — there are still a few solid picks, including the Oscar-shortlisted Two Lives (2012). The documentary slate also holds plenty of appeal, with films that explore the globally human instincts to interfere, to intervene, and to seek atonement.

Swiss-German-Austrian documentary More Than Honey (2012) offers an alarmingly frank exposé of the ongoing demise of the domesticated honeybee from California to China, and the implications that this population implosion holds for the future of food production. Honey bumbles onscreen like a bee in flight, seemingly directionless yet always with purpose. Director Markus Imhoof weaves his family's own history of beekeeping with that of modern-day bee husbandry, comparing the techniques of his ancestors with the equally old-school methods employed by elderly Swiss beekeep Fred Jaggi; the industrial-scale beekeeping of "nomadic" John Miller, who transports his bees cross-country each year to pollinate crops from Northern California to North Dakota; and the renegade experimentation with fearsome "killer bees" employed by Arizona-based Fred Terry, who equates Americans' fear of Africanized bees to our more generalized fear of invasion.

Squeamish masses beware, you will be subjected to extreme close-ups of larval chambers, mid-air bee sex, and ruthless varroa mite infestations, while getting more information about queening, foulbrood, hand pollination, and bee-whispering than you probably realized existed. Like raw honey, the film is both sweet and murky, and the prospects for peaceful cohabitation with a creature driven to possible extinction thanks to our careless treatment of its preferred habitats, which also happen to be where all of our food is grown, don't appear to be weighted on the side of good news.

One documentary with no less a fascinating premise, albeit a less polished presentation, is Miles and War (2013), which highlights the working life of professional conflict mediators. A side project filmed and directed by Anna Thoma — who has worked as a videographer for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and therefore had privileged access to three of the Centre's top mediators — Miles dives into conflict regions, where mediators arrange meetings between warlords or rebel factions and hammer out agreements between them in painstakingly slow increments. Or, as Centre co-founder and former Executive Director Martin Griffiths observes halfway through a negotiation so secret even Anna is not allowed to be in the room, "You need to be a lot more patient than you want to be, because everything is going to take so much longer than it needs to."

In truth, because mediation is a confidential process, Thoma's film winds up on the sidelines more often than not, a so-close-yet-so-far teaser of the tense, often solitary downtime between mediations, seemingly composed of endless one-sided phone calls, plane flights, and scheduling blips.

"It's a life controlled by others," Griffiths tells Thoma almost ruefully, before slipping away to his secret meeting. "[Waiting] for someone to say yes."

Also from this author

  • Divining the entrails

    New Last Gasp releases explore the unsettling art of Laurie Lipton and Elizabeth McGrath

  • The Performant: Epochalypse Now

  • Bully pulpit

    Why it doesn't "get better" for Carrie White