Description from TIFF 2009 catalog by Thom Powers:

We admire some documentaries for their artistry and others for their urgency. Rarely do we see a film that combines both of these qualities as impressively as this debut by directors Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell. Their unlikely topic is the world of beekeepers during the recent (and ongoing) crisis known as colony collapse disorder.

Beautifully photographed by McDonnell and skilfully edited by Gunn, Colony follows several American beekeepers during 2008 and 2009 as the country’s economy spiralled downward. Among them is David Hackenberg, who first identified colony collapse disorder when he mysteriously lost eighty million bees from his Florida hives. Many keepers blamed insecticides for killing more than one quarter of the bees in the United States, but no one had any evidence. We see the keepers search for solutions, testify before politicians and confront pesticide manufacturers.

The mystery is like something out of science fiction and has dark implications for the future. Because our agriculture depends on pollination, when bees are in trouble, so is society. The expression “busy as a bee” gains deeper meaning after hearing the quirky entrepreneur David Mendes describe his migratory pattern. Packing thousands of hives onto a tractor-trailer, he travels across the country, renting out his bees to farmers for weeks at a time, following crop cycles from Maine to Florida to California.

At the heart of this film is the Seppi family, newcomers to the beekeeping world who are guided by their deep Christian faith. Based in California, the Seppis contract their bees to almond growers, who require over 1.3 million hives for the world’s biggest pollination. As the Seppis face the collapse of their colony and the economy, tensions course through the family.

Gunn and McDonnell carefully compose these scenes, attaining an intimacy without being intrusive. The filmmakers are equally capable at filming on the microcosmic scale, drawing us into the world of bees so that we root for their survival as much as our own.

About the directors:
Carter Gunn is a documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn. Since graduating from The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, he has worked as an assistant editor on several films, including I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA (07), James Blunt: Return to Kosovo (07) and Quest for Honor (09). Colony (09) is his feature-length directorial debut.

Ross McDonnell was born in Dublin and completed his B.A. in Communication Studies at Dublin City University. Colony (09) is his feature-length directorial debut.