Bees on the Big Screen.
Bees have been central to the plot of many movies over the years. Typically, most belong to the horror genre and gave focussed upon the aggressive tendencies of ‘Africanised’ bees ( or ‘killer bees’) to cause potential mayhem. Like The Deadly Bees from 1967, and the big-budget disaster movie The Swarm, which was released in 1978. Directed by Irwin Allen, who was also responsible for The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, the film featured a stellar cast including Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Fred MacMurray, Patty Duke, Olivia de Havilland and Michael Caine, who concludes, ‘If we’re lucky, the world may just survive!’
Bee Movie, an animated feature from 2007 starring the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman and Chris Rock, has a different theme, delivering an environmental message as a honey bee sues the human race for exploiting its species.
Given the incredible rise in popularity of beekeeping as a hobby (particularly ‘urban beekeeping’, or ‘backyard beekeeping’) it is appropriate that the storyline of a recent Turkish production, Keeping the Bees (2020; originally entitled Kovan), concentrates on beekeeping and the challenges faced by a novice who finds herself plunged into the deep end.
At the behest of her dying mother, Ayse turns her back on her life and career in urban Germany to return to her birthplace in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. Her mother has but one request, ‘Take care of my bees!’
‘I can’t do it!’ Ayse laments. Not only does she have trouble fitting in to the rural community in which bees and honey are an integral component, but she is also terrified of bees! Ayse attempts to manage the precious hives with the assistance of her mother’s loyal helper, Ahmet, but finds that lessons learnt in childhood are difficult to recall, and that the bees are more difficult to manage than she anticipated.
Viewers are introduced to the vagaries of the Caucasian honey bee – a gentle subspecies native to the region, which is a strong producer of honey and is capable of withstanding extreme weather conditions. The bees insulate their hives with large quantities of propolis, or ‘bee glue’, making management more problematic as parts of the hive can often become stuck together. Incidentally, many Australian honey bees are hybrids of the Caucasian honey bee, which also has the distinction of having the longest tongue of any subspecies.
‘I can overcome my fear,’ Ayse declares, determined to succeed. When Ahmet tells her that the prevailing wet weather will translate into a dearth of honey, she investigates alternative varieties of bees better suited to foraging in the rain.
‘English bees – that’ll never work!’ a sceptical Ahmet scoffs.
Ayse also has plans for modern marketing, and a change in the weather sees her ideas begin to bear fruit. The untimely arrival of a Caucasian brown bear (affectionately known as ‘Chestnut’ by local conservationists) threatens not only the destruction of the hives, but also puts Ayse’s life in jeopardy. Does the bear have some mystical connection to Ayse’s mother? Has Ayse somehow cursed the beloved bees? Starring acclaimed Turkish actress Meryem Uzerli and directed by Eylem Kaftan, this film is set against a backdrop of stunning scenery and is of particular appeal to anyone with an interest in bees or beekeeping.
Kovan The Movie is available on Netflix