Documentary Review: ‘The Pollinators’

Review by James Lindorf

Longtime documentary cinematographer Peter Nelson is adding another job title to his resume, Director. With Nelson also working as the film’s cinematographer, “The Pollinators” has a polished look. It has all the slow-motion flying, sweeping aerial shots of farms and fields, and the plethora of sunsets and sunrises one comes to expect from a nature documentary. “The Pollinators” is a fact fueled documentary that uses the plight of bees as an entry point to examine the state of agriculture as a whole and how the two depend on each other. “The Pollinators” will begin visiting On Demand sites on June 16th in advance of National Pollinator Week.

The state of bees has been an issue in our collective consciousness since the panic around colony collapse disorder from 2005-2008. Their existence is crucial to American agriculture, the economy, and the way we live. You may be wondering how vital one type of insect can be. Bees are directly responsible for 1/3 of all food produced in the United States, which has an estimated value of 20 billion dollars. With populations in decline, it has become necessary for beekeepers to ferry their hives from one end of the country to the other follow the flowing of plants ready for pollination. It can cost farms hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the bees trucked in for their growing seasons.

The farmers need the bees, but the measures they take to kill the harmful insects are also taking a toll on the bees. Pesticides are part of a three-pronged attack that kills millions of bees every year. In addition to pesticides, bees are also in danger from mites that weaken their immune systems making them more susceptible to viruses and pesticides. The final prong is a lack of nutrition. As wild areas and flowering crops are being replaced by crops like corn and soybeans, which don’t need bees, the areas that sustain bee populations are shrinking. Unfortunately, organizations like the EPA are often too invested in the spending of farmers and chemical corporations to make significant changes to protect the bees. One of the beekeepers even came up with a new name for the regulating body “I call them the CPA…Chemical Protection Agency.”

Facts and opinions about the current state of agriculture, its future, and how it can be improved are in a high abundance from the opening to the closing credits. Under the pretty visuals and copious details is a film that is lacking in the entertainment department. Lots of the interviewees live in rural areas, which may have affected how comfortable they were on camera. When the topic is bugs, plants, and soil for 90 minutes, you need some charisma to pull in the viewers. There are a few that have the energy to keep your attention while teaching, but they needed more screen time. There is a real danger of viewers getting distracted and spending chucks of the runtime on another device, or even worse, changing the channel. Nelson has a lot of potential to make a great documentary. With a little more work pulling the characters out of his interviewees or more time in the editing bay and “The Pollinators” could have been it.

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