Film features local beekeper

MIDDLEBURY — The independent documentary film that earlier this year created quite a buzz — literally — at film festivals from Rhode Island to Seattle to Maui will make an appearance in Middlebury this week.
“Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?” briefly features Bridport bee expert Kirk Webster and his mite-free colonies in an effort to share an alternative look at what people are calling a “global bee crisis” currently in effect.
Webster, along with the Portland, Ore., duo who made the documentary, will be taking questions following the screening at the Marquis Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m.
Director Taggart Siegel — who also made PBS documentary “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” — and producer Jon Betz set out to make a movie to follow up on scientist and philosopher Rudolph Steiner’s 1923 prediction that in 80 to 100 years honeybees would be wiped out. Steiner warned that artificially breeding the bees would lead to their complete disappearance.
Some, like local beekeeper and breeder Kirk Webster, listened.
Webster has published several articles in beekeeping magazines about his work with natural queen breeding.
“My work is unique or almost unique in that I’ve succeeded without (chemical) treatments since 2002,” Webster said of his method that steers clear of miticides. “And that’s through a combination of breeding and routine management together.”
But methods like Webster’s, and those used by other biodynamic beekeepers featured in the film, are still on the subversive side.
“The film offers an alternative point of view,” Webster said. “I’m rather controversial in the beekeeping world right now — I’ve sort of caused a lot of commotion because the larger industries aren’t ready to accept that what I’ve been doing actually works.”
But Webster hasn’t gone looking for attention. Siegel and Betz called him up out of the blue in the summer of 2009 and asked if they could capture some footage of him and his bees in action.
“I’ve had more visibility in the bee world than I would like,” Webster said. “They did a little bit of filming, but I’m not really in much of it.”
Along with Webster, the pair interviewed national best-selling author Michael Pollan, world-famous biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk, Indian activist Vandana Shiva, among several other scientists, philosophers and beekeepers from all over the world.
Though flattered to appear in a film with such luminaries, Webster hasn’t let his 15 seconds of fame go to his head.
“I’m just a beekeeper, like any other farmer in the Champlain Valley,” he said. “I’m just trying to make a living, and this is just what made the most sense for me and my business.”
The documentary weaves the interviews together with what Webster called “stunning shots” of beekeepers and their airborne associates to demonstrate just how crucial bees are to both the world’s society and ecosystem.
When Siegel and Betz decided to screen the film at the Marquis Theater, right in Webster’s backyard, they called him up once again and asked if he would be a part of the panel for the Q&A to follow the screening and offer an Addison-County perspective on the honeybee crisis. Theater owner Bill Shafer seconded the motion.
Shafer agreed in July to show “Queen of the Sun” at his theater after viewing it for himself and finding it fascinating.
“I’m no expert,” Shafer said, “Just interested. I thought it would be appropriate given the heritage and activity in the Champlain Valley — you know, it’s the land of milk and honey.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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