David G. Knappe’s Bee People is a documentary about just that: people who care for, study and/or educate others about bees. Whether it’s discussion about stopping colony collapse or showing how to properly rescue a hive, the film covers as much as it can in the world of bee people. It’s a film that at times plays informative, and other times comes across like a reality television show pilot as it establishes its characters and scenarios.
It’s sometimes uneasy as it flits between the two tones, but it certainly has the characters to embrace either. Gregarious “Bee Guru” Gregg McMahan, for example, is as comfortable entertaining as he is educating, and his over-the-top personality rules the day. His partner, Bill Schlenker, is quieter, but equally as memorable with that ever-present Bluetooth headset in his ear. Other characters seem to exist within those two extremes of overwhelming personality and quiet expertise.
As far as the edit and pacing goes, I think this is a film that would’ve been served more by embracing its reality TV-style leanings and to focus in on fewer adventures, resulting in a shorter overall running time (maybe closer to reality TV’s 40-45 minutes). It’s not that this feels long, it just very much feels episodic, and often feels padded out around the episodes. I mean, “The Allergic Baker” is an interesting moment, but compared to some of the others, it doesn’t have the engagement of the first bee rescue or bee colony marriage, and could probably be dropped altogether and the film would not be lesser for it.
Because the central idea is there, Gregg McMahan’s belief that we need more bee keepers instead of more bees for the existing keepers, and the episodes or scenarios do lend to that idea, as new people are informed on how to be bee keepers or bee people. However, there’s also a lot of repetition, as even the trivia sections with strangers repeat the same questions and answers, information that the documentary reveals in its earlier minutes (life span of worker bees, for example). The result of the repetition isn’t that the facts sink in, but that you start to wonder why more, different, facts aren’t being shared.
Basically, we get the message and the info, so instead of repetition, why not focus in on the more entertaining (and still informative) elements? Hit strong, fast and make it memorable. Don’t draw it out so we have time to think of something else. Again, to that end, since it already feels like an episode of reality TV, why not commit and embrace that running time too?
In the end, will Bee People serve McMahan’s hope and breed more bee people? I can only speak for myself when I say that I know of the importance of bees, and I’m glad bee people are out there, but I’m not likely to join their ranks any time soon. I don’t know that this film could’ve convinced me there in either direction, however, so more than anything I found the film to be an entertaining and informative glimpse into the life of a unique subculture of humanity.
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