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Originally published November 18, 2010 at 3:03 PM | Page modified November 18, 2010 at 5:01 PM

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Movie review

'Colony': Beauty and the bees

"Colony," a beautiful new film about bees, takes up the question of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious plague that has led to the disappearance of a quarter to a third of the American bee population.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Colony,' directed by Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell. 87 minutes. Not rated. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

"All of a sudden, the bees just disappeared," says a veteran beekeeper in Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell's elegant 2009 documentary "Colony." The film follows several longtime beekeepers — as well as a pair of California brothers just getting started — as the industry faces the mysterious plague of colony collapse disorder (CCD). We're told that a quarter to a third of the American bee population has died, for reasons no one could then identify.

McDonnell, also the film's cinematographer, finds beauty in every frame: a close-up of a bee, scratching its face as if pondering; a hive caught in sunlight, each bee seemingly lit from within; a white-blossomed grove of almond trees under a vibrant sky. Almond growers, the film tells us, are the biggest customers for pollination bees, needing some 1.3 million hives in a typical year; pollination is what keeps bee businesses alive, not honey.

Quietly raising an alarm about a disorder that could potentially cripple the agricultural system, "Colony" lets us meet the beekeepers and hear different approaches to the problem: Some want government intervention, while others fear additional taxes on struggling businesses. The film also emerges as a quiet tribute to a usually ignored species, gently reminding us, in one keeper's words, that "Bees work together for the common good."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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