WHEN THEY’RE GONE is a documentary short, examining humanity’s fragile dependence on nature. Despite our best efforts to control and shape our surroundings, we learn through the film’s characters that disrupting nature’s carefully designed ecosystems carries weighty consequences. In doing so, it casts a spotlight on industrial agriculture’s reliance on honey bees for hire in order to produce crops. The film’s four characters struggle to transport enough healthy bees to California’s Central Valley to pollinate the almond orchards–the mecca of migratory pollinators. Each character represents a small piece of an industry that brings nearly every bee and beekeeper in the country together to feed the world, their bees equal parts necessary and disposable.
Eight years ago I watched a TED Talk by entomologist Dennis VanEngelsdorp titled “A plea for bees.” In it VanEngelsdorp discusses the mysterious colony collapse disorder that was first reported in 2006 and that resulted in the entire adult population of beehives disappearing simultaneously, sentencing the queen and brood to death. The phenomenon sent shockwaves through the agricultural industry, academia and the American public–what was killing the bees?
While it is now thought that a cacophony of environmental stressors, including habitat loss, pesticides, lack of diverse food sources, and parasites overwhelm honey bee colonies, something VanEngelsdorp mentioned in his talk stuck with me years later. He mentioned that in addition to killing bees, these stressors were killing off a unique piece of Americana: The migratory beekeeper who traveled cross country, hives in tow, to pollinate the nation’s crops, many having done so for generations. Without them our food systems would fail, yet the very industry that employs them also harms the bees. Thus was planted the seed of this film.
The film is currently on the festival circuit. Screenings can be made available upon request.