This consciousness-raising cinema observes beekeeper Anicet Desrochers as he spreads the word about his methods.
The worldwide efforts to battle bee colony collapse are probably too overwhelming for any single documentary to chronicle, making Quebec filmmaker Pascal Sanchez’s decision in “The Ailing Queen” to concentrate on young, energetic beekeeper Anicet Desrochers particularly wise. Rather than adopt an apocalyptic tone, this fine piece of consciousness-raising cinema observes Desrochers working through the seasons to strengthen his colonies and spread the word about his methods. A celebration of agriculture, beekeeping and science, pic should stir serious buzz among specialty programmers and pubcasters.The docu caps an outstanding year for Quebec filmmaking of all kinds, and stresses different concerns than the last major film on the issue, “Colony.” While that fascinating work centered on a stressed family struggling to keep their apiary business afloat, “Queen” looks to the youthful Desrochers as a pioneer for a more ecological method of managing bees and the fields they pollinate — and upon which the earth’s entire agricultural production depends. The early passages focus on Desrochers’ efforts to ship healthy queen bees to fellow beekeepers suffering under their own collection of ailing queens. Hive loss, or the sheer death rate of bees, has varied from region to region in recent years, but a mortality rate as high as 60% has hit many keepers in touch with Desrochers, who appears to have the magic touch. Still, he reminds Sanchez and co-d.p. Geoffrey Beauchemin (who seems to be by his side morning, noon and night and even across the family dinner table) that he’s also been hit with colony collapse. The film patiently reveals Desrochers as a serious student of his craft as he explains the signs of healthy and sick colonies, methods of restoration, and some of the underlying problems stemming from the excessive use of chemicals and pesticides, which he thinks have propelled the crisis. In contrast with Desrochers’ approach, “The Ailing Queen” also spends some time with fellow northern Quebec beekeeper Marc Zeller, a generation older than Desrochers and encountering more severe problems with hive loss. Desrochers’ efforts to create bees naturally resistant to viruses and diseases has already won him and his modest farm in the Hautes-Laurentides region of Quebec international regard, but Sanchez’s humble filmmaking style never drumbeats that we’re watching a hero — just a guy who loves bees and nature, and understands the science guiding them both. Tech work is superb, supporting a filmmaking style that balances aesthetic rigor with an interest in character and storytelling.