Creatures Great and Small
Published on June 9th, 2011 | by L. Caldoran0
Environmental-warning message docs have become sadly, and perhaps necessarily, ubiquitous in recent years, each focusing on some newly-imminent species endangerment or geographic catastrophe. “Queen of the Sun” sounds the alarm on the subject of the honeybee.
Shot in gorgeous, eye-popping color and punctuated with brief animated sequences, the film considers possible causes of “colony collapse disorder,” in which the inhabitants of seemingly-healthy bee colonies suddenly vanish or die. This is decidedly Not A Good Thing, since, without the natural crop pollination brought on by honeybees, we’d be eating “just bread and oatmeal all the time.” An overview of the vital impact of the honeybee on human civilization leads to discussion by assorted experts about the numerous ways contemporary pesticides and (inevitably) profit margins harm bee colonies—which, in turn, harm the humans who utilize the bees’ natural products.
At times “Queen of the Sun” can feel a bit too obviously like a Very Important Lesson, as is the pitfall of any such doc: it’s often most interesting as a film when simply talking with a wide range of independent beekeepers from around the world about their particular methods and motives. Among the most colorful is a spry 70-year-old Frenchman who declares that keepers are “choosed [sic] by bees” and claims his own bees enjoy being “brushed” by his ample moustache.
If “Queen of the Sun” tackles the global repercussions of human/animal interaction, “One Lucky Elephant” takes place on a smaller, more personal scale, with more in the way of a narrative arc. Aging ringmaster David Balding has raised 18-year-old elephant Flora for most of her life: she seems to have taken on the role of surrogate daughter to him, even participating in his wedding. Recently, Flora has visibly grown far more listless and bored with circus performance than she was in younger years, and Balding decides to retire her from showbiz so she can live out the rest of her life among her own kind.
The film doesn’t simply paste a happy ending onto her relocation to a Tennessee elephant sanctuary: issues arise due to Flora’s strong attachment to Balding and general lack of prior socialization with other elephants. Thus, what could have been a sentimental boy-and-his-dog tale is ultimately far more nuanced, delving into elephant psychology: what causes these beasts to be equally capable of bonding deeply with individual humans and lashing out violently against them. Though not exactly a dark, cautionary tale of human folly in the vein of “Grizzly Man,” “Elephant” reflects on human intervention in the lives of wild animals and whether even the best intentions can ultimately cause harm.