More Than Honey


My goal wasn’t to shoot a global film that would go at top speed from one place to the next, but rather to take the time to get to know and understand the different protagonists – most of them, beekeepers. All of them expressed their personal opinions. Even if they inspire or suggest a number of broader themes, we mainly sought to get to know them as human beings. We observed their daily work, took their existential anguish quite seriously and suffered with them when yet another bee colony disappeared or had to be destroyed. - Markus Imhoof, Director


Fred Jaggi sets great stores by tradition. For him, it is an ingredient in his recipe for success. This implies that he exclusively keeps bees of a “local black breed”, known for swarming a lot, but also for producing more honey. “Their place is here, in the mountains, and it has to remain so.” The yellow bees (belonging to a beekeeper in the nearby valley) that sometimes wander over to his place are a great source of annoyance for him. One of his queens was just fecundated by a yellow drone and has been laying eggs bearing little half-breeds. With assured gestures, Jaggi seizes the treacherous queen, scolds her for her infidelity, and then severs her head by pressing his thumbnail on the edge of the honeycomb.


Enormous machines move like great robot insects between the rows of almond trees planted at a precise distance from one another – they shake the trees to make its fruits fall. John Miller stands at one end of the orchard, observing the harvest. “Blowers” suck up the almonds on the ground and the seasonal workers sort them on a conveyer belt. Miller is satisfied. “These almond trees were pollinated by bees that came from Australia, the almonds grew in the US and now they’re sent to Spain where they’ll be peeled and grilled. Then they’ll take a plane to Japan, where they’ll be used for the preparation of a traditional dessert. It will have taken four continents to make a cake. A gigantic collective performance, if you will.” Yet, all the self-derision in the world won’t fool anyone: John Miller has doubts. He is one of the wheels in a mechanism that generates billions of dollars of income, but it is obvious that this unlimited growth cannot be maintained indefinitely. Miller can’t jump ship; the agricultural economy needs bees, and he needs this job.


Heidrun Singer is wearing magnifying glasses and, armed with a minuscule spoon, she scoops the young larvae out of the honeycomb. “We’re giving nature a little nudge,” she said, laughing. We can dupe the bees and ‘reprogram’ them, a bit like a hacker! In principle, these larvae are destined to become ordinary workers, but once they’ve been placed in an artificial royal cell, the workers start feeding them royal jelly and thus turn them into queens!” Heidrun’s family has been in beekeeping for three generations, and her daughter is already learning the ropes of the trade. “My breed of bees results from centuries of rigorous breeding: they aren’t aggressive and produce a lot of honey. Which means that my queens are much sought-after throughout the world.”


A neurobiologist from the Freie Universität of Berlin, professor Menzel is “the bee whisperer”. “A bee can’t survive on its own. This is why we speak of ‘super-organism’.” This means that we consider a bee colony as one single large animal, whose workers constitute the ‘body’, while the drone and queen are the male and female ‘sexual organs’. A colony consists of approximately 50,000 bees, and each of them has 950,000 nervous cells. Connecting them adroitly, they have at their disposal the calculation power of nearly 500 billion nervous cells! A human brain has a mere 100 billion…. The deeper professor Menzel takes us into the extraordinary organism constituted by the swarm, the more remote and unreal human life appears.


In Arizona, Fred Terry places the killer bees that he’s just captured in a separate structure, but instead of killing them, he gives them sugared water. The bees drink avidly. “These are not lapdogs like the “normal” domestic bees; these are wolves. That’s why they don’t get sick. They are perfect honeybees too. You just need to avoid provoking them…”