“Queen of the Sun,” a lushly photographed documentary on the vanishing of bees, and “Even the Rain,” the Spanish tale of a movie crew filming in Bolivia while a real-life demonstration goes on, will both play Saturday, March 26, on the Vineyard. It’s an unfortunate bit of scheduling overlap, since both films are well worth seeing.
“Queen of the Sun” has the advantage of being directed by Taggart Siegel, who also made the award-winning “The Real Dirt on Farmer John.” Sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, it follows last month’s screening of “Vanishing of the Bees” by Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard on the same subject, but hardly seems redundant considering the seriousness of the bee crisis. Note that it will play at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury instead of the usual Katharine Cornell Theatre.
Forty percent of our food would not exist without pollination by bees. Their disappearance creates a dilemma that has sneaked up on the world without the 24/7 news coverage given to earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear accidents.
“Queen of the Sun” opens with the image of a bee-covered dancer that is so arresting viewers will wonder why the director didn’t do more with it. While last month’s bee documentary seemed to focus on a hunt for the villain behind what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder, “Queen of the Sun” does a more elegant job building the case for why bees matter so much both today and historically.
“Their crisis is our crisis,” says food guru Michael Pollan. So precious has bee-produced honey been considered over the ages that it was not even marketed until the end of the 19th century. Honey found in King Tut’s tomb was still edible after 2,000 years.
One culprit in the bee’s disappearance is modern monoculture farming – “The original sin of agriculture” says the film’s narrator – which banishes all the normal sources of nectar for bees in the interest of efficiency. It has led to a commercial bee business that must be migratory to survive.
Transported from all over the country, three-quarters of U.S. bees converge, for example, on California’s almond orchards in February each year to pollinate them. One disturbing part of this process is the practice of feeding bees with that anathema of the modern human diet, high fructose corn syrup. Transcontinental transport proves highly stressful to the bees and encourages the spread of disease. Beekeepers who produce queen bees artificially inseminate them, a procedure that reduces the variety and vigor achieved through natural reproduction.
Rich in visuals, music, and information, “Queen of the Sun” doesn’t leave the viewer despairing about the plight of the bees so much as wanting to help. One good sign is that rooftop and backyard beekeeping are flourishing, along with a few bee sanctuaries. The ultimate message is to respect bees and pay attention to what’s happening to them.
“Even the Rain”
Filmgoers who attended last weekend’s Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival may have already enjoyed “Even the Rain,” but the Capawock Theatre will screen this intriguing movie on Saturday for those who missed it.
Set in Cochabamba, Bolivia, “Even the Rain” tells the story of a Spanish film crew making a movie about Christopher Columbus’s abuse of natives in South America. While Columbus’s New World settlement was actually on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the filmmakers in “Even the Rain” chose Bolivia to save money. They can pay extras a mere $2 a day.
Paralleling the movie-within-a-movie is the story of a Bolivian protest — based on an actual event — that occurs when a multinational company buys the natives’ water rights and tries to bill them for their own water. Director Iciar Bolain uses these two stories to illustrate the way old and new forms of exploitation take place in the Third World.
From the first scene in the movie, which stars Gael Garcia Bernal as the fictive director Sebastian, “Even the Rain” demonstrates the irony in his naively idealistic aim to reveal the dark side of Columbus. Hundreds of natives have lined up for a casting call and become indignant when he tries to dismiss them without so much as an interview.
Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) is the most outspoken and turns out to be leader of the demonstrations against those who make it illegal even to capture rain for drinking — hence the movie’s title. Sebastian chooses him for a key role in the movie, and the producer, Costa (Luis Tosar), who at first seems pig-headed and insensitive, comes to respect Daniel.
The strength and the weakness of “Even the Rain” is the disorder both on the fictional movie set and in the workers’ demonstrations. Aesthetically this chaos sometimes can confuse the viewer, a problem compounded by the speed of the dialogue and the frequent obscurity of the white subtitles. In terms of verisimilitude, though, the disorder seems a valid reflection of how things happen, and a film teaming with interesting ideas.
The Vineyard is particularly fortunate to have two film organizations and a commercial theatre chain that bring unusual and unique movies to the Island. Let’s hope they find ways not to counter-schedule in the future.
“Queen of the Sun,” Saturday, March 26, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Hall, West Tisbury. $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, see mvfilmsociety.com.
“Even the Rain,” Saturday, March 26, 4 and 7 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $7.