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LAFF | The Bee Suit Comes Off: “The Last Beekeeper” Director Jeremy Simmons

LAFF | The Bee Suit Comes Off: "The Last Beekeeper" Director Jeremy Simmons

The world’s honeybees are currently in crisis. These unsung heroes of the food chain, who are responsible for pollinating a third of the food we eat, are vanishing at an alarming rate. With some beekeepers reporting an unexplained 90% decrease in their hive population, scientists are working to solve this environmental mystery. This phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, is at the heart of Jeremy Simmons’ documentary, “The Last Beekeeper.” [Description courtesy of LAFF]

“The Last Beekeeper”
Documentary Competition
Directed By: Jeremy Simmons
Producers: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Mona Card
Cinematographers: Goro Toshima, Sebastian Jungwirth, David Kempner, Jeremy Simmons, Pyongson Yim
Editor: Jeremy Simmons
Music: David Benjamin Steinberg
U.S.A., 2009, 66 mins

[EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling International Spotlight and dramatic and documentary competition directors who have films screening at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.]

What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved since starting out?

I was around 10 years old and I was forbidden from playing with the new betamax camera my dad had just bought. At the time, I was interested in doing anything my dad asked me not to do so I started to make short movies. Little did I know that that camera would soon turn into an all- consuming hobby, and ultimately a career.

How did the idea for your film come about and what excited you to undertake the project?

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the producers of the film, were fascinated by the CCD story when it first surfaced. I too, was intrigued, but at the time, I thought that the story would resolve itself quickly and didn’t think it would be a subject worth pursuing for a feature documentary. That changed when I did an exploratory research shoot with a number of beekeepers in California’s central valley. Hearing their stories convinced me that this was a story with profound implications. It was a very personal tragedy for beekeepers, and posed some very important questions for the rest of us.

How did you approach making the film, and were there any pivotal moments of learning during the life of the project for you?

I wanted to personalize the story of the bees with those that were most immediately effected by their disappearance. That was the strategy from the beginning. What I didn’t realize was how much I personally would relate with the beekeepers. Beekeepers are independent contractors, hired to do a job. They are not a part of large corporations. They are not backed by government subsidies. They are not even insurable. It’s a huge gamble from year to year, particularly now. As a result, beekeepers go into beekeeping because they love the job. There is little else to motivate them. The same could be said about independent filmmakers. It became clear that their passion and love for the job and the bees would be the emotional heart of the film.

What were some of the biggest challenges in making the film?

Shooting in a bee suit makes it hard to see, hard to work the camera, and often, bees will get into your veil – posing an additional challenge to getting a steady shot.

Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?

Because shooting in a bee suit is not practical, it often had to come off to get the shot. Which led to bees in my hair (painful), bee stings in my mouth (more painful), and stings on my eyelids (terrifying). A bee sting on the eyelid will swell your eye shut for 3 days.

What other genres or stories would you like to explore?

I’m more interested in good stories and interesting people than particular genres. I have a whole list of those!

What other projects are you looking to do?

I am currently working with World of Wonder on a documentary for HBO about South Africa’s first Black Ballet School.

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