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Markus Imhoof • Director

Modern Times for the bees


- With stunning macro shots Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoof provides an inside look into beehives that has never been seen before.

Markus Imhoof • Director

The closing night of the 65th Locarno Film Festival presents the documentary More Than Honey [+see also:
film review
interview: Markus Imhoof
film profile
at the Piazza Grande about the life and mysterious disappearance of bees. With stunning macro shots the acclaimed Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoof provides an inside look into beehives that has never been seen before.

Cineuropa: As the grandchild of a beekeeper you have been grown up with bees. Was it a matter of the heart for you to do a film about the disappearance of the bees?
Markus Imhoof: While I was working for years on a script about a fraud without coming to an end, the news of the death of the bees was spreading. Since my daughter and my son-in-law are bee scientists I was well informed about the subject. I had to make this film because this issue is very urgent. This is why the bees called me.

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How did you get access to the beekeepers?
First of all I visited my daughter in Australia, who is well connected with beekeepers across the whole world. This was very helpful. For my research, I travelled around the world. I only brought a small Sony camera to take some photos and talked to various beekeepers.

Do beekeepers have different approaches? Do some of them see honey only as an industrial product?
The American beekeeper in my film loves his bees. Beekeeping is part of his family tradition. But he is a tough businessman and accepts sending his bees to plantations that are treated with pesticides. It is very interesting that he is aware of all the consequences but he can‘t escape this vicious circle. It is the wrong approach to have 700,000 square kilometres of almond trees but we can‘t expect that they will cut these trees to create a genetic diversity. The whole country is structured this way, its agriculture is like a factory. These are 'Modern Times' for the bees. Perversely, the bees are better off in the fumes of the cities than on the pesticide-laden countryside. In the parks and cemeteries, the bees find much better food than in the country.

How were you able to film such intense close-ups of the bees?
For the macro shots, we set up a bee studio in Vienna with 15 bee colonies of different races. We needed ten crew members to film a single bee. For these macro shots, we used the digital high speed camera Phantom HD, which can shoot 300 frames per second so that we could show the movement of the bees. The problem with slow motion is that it requires a lot of light. Of course, we didn‘t want to burn the bees nor to let the wax melt. Therefore, we shot a lot of the scenes outside and worked with mirrors that reflected the light without producing too much heat.

Was it difficult to find a team that was willing to work with bees?
The crew had to come with certain skills - one was to take time, because the film was made over the course of two years. We had 70 documentary shooting days and 35 days for the macro shots in the studio. The macro shots were taken by Attila Boa, who was already experienced in filming bees and had built an ocular in the mask of his protective suit. The documentary part was filmed by Jörg Jeshel. One of his firsts tasks was to film the killer bees in Arizona, which attacked his nose straight away.

Will the audience look at bees in a different way after this film?
It was my intention to arouse emotions for the bees with the macro shots without becoming kitsch. I want to stir up curiosity so that the audience would wonder who was the antagonist; the human being or the bees. We shouldn‘t accept that the world becomes a factory in which nature is nothing more than a conveyer belt.

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