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‘American Foulbrood’
An environmental documentary video
Producer/Director: Carlos Francisco
Duration: 85 minutes
Country of production: South Africa
Date of completion: 2010

World premiere: Durban International Film Festival 2010

Director Statement
This project is a personal journey into understanding the uncommonly seen acts and procedures that happen behind the disasters of our time. These stories are often brought to the public’s attention through the media but once the hype dies down few are concerned as to how and if the problem is actually solved.

I saw this project my responsibility as an independent filmmaker and hobbyist beekeeper to capture for the first time a major immunological problem faced by South Africa’s bee population. I was looking for a good angle to produce a story about beekeepers in South Africa; surprisingly it was the outbreak of AFB, which triggered me into action. I immediately equipped myself and headed off to the epicentre of the disaster.

Fact is bees have become an integral part of society’s food and job security, we are very dependant on them for life as we know it and cannot afford to lose them; a threat to them is a threat to us. A keeper of bees myself I was able to establish relationships with a few ambitious and colourful beekeepers in the Western Cape region. I gained access into their life views, their knowledge about the bee and the hard physical work they endure. I realised the tragic consequences that lay ahead for beekeepers with high infections, it could very likely mean the end of their livelihoods.

I was able to film the developments over the period of a year and as expected, people and bees went through transformation. I filmed the events as a single camera operator making sure I was present where relevantly possible; important for me was to create an engaging insight into a threat, not dealt with, could even indirectly effect the viewers life. My approach was to allow the viewer to be close to the action whenever I could, bringing about a sense of involvement and opportunity to see and experience seldom seen elements of livestock disease management.


I realised that the story had two ways it could go, the bees would either recover and life would go on normally or the beekeepers would experience a huge collapse in bee numbers. I would have to be prepared to depict either of the realities as they happened. I felt it important to identify a core lesson to be learnt from this desperate situation; the film and its characters began to convey that.

I feel the story is an example of the importance of nature’s independent evolution without man’s constant pampering. I am currently still following and filming the situation. It is uncertain as to how the remaining bees are going endure the presence of the disease. If a large-scale collapse is experienced, the integrity of the South African beekeeper ideals will be tested, perhaps medication will be the only solution.

Synopsis - Short
At a time when globally bee populations are dramatically collapsing; African bees show no signs of being affected, in fact they are flourishing.

Early 2009, sees the unexpected and sudden outbreak of ‘American Foulbrood’, the world’s worst bee disease and historically prevalent in all countries, has finally arrived in South Africa.

Filmed over a period of a year we follow a few charismatic South African beekeepers as they come to terms with and react to this potentially disastrous infection. The wild South African bees have through the years self managed all previous foreign diseases but little is known on how the bees will react to this new bacterial invasion. The viewer is taken on several personal journeys into learning what actually makes the African bee 'wild' and how has it, until now, managed to be generally unaffected by the res
t of the worlds problems.

The film brings forward the dilemmas people are faced with when working with modern day livestock and the constant threat of diseases spreading globally. A very personal film that allows viewers into a reality of which very little is known publicly.
Synopsis – Long
At a time when globally bee populations are dramatically decreasing from the inability to cope with the high prevalence of bee diseases, African bees show no signs of being affected, they are flourishing.

Early 2009 witnesses the unexpected and sudden outbreak of ‘American Foulbrood’ this, the world’s worst bee disease and historically prevalent in all countries, has finally arrived in South Africa.

Caught un-expecting and ill prepared the countries sole existing bee researcher, Mike Allsopp, provocates that lowering the disease’s presence through the destruction of all infected colonies is potentially the only dependable solution. Mike exclaims, “We have no way of knowing how our bees will handle this new disease, there could be a 30% collapse or it could be 90% collapse of the bee population. We just don’t know.”

With anticipation of major bee population collapses, the race to determine how far and fast the disease is spreading begins. One of the beekeepers rising to the challenge is young, enthusiastic Brendan Ashley Cooper, owner of over 500 hives, an inherited family business; a third of his bee colonies are experiencing the infection.

Brendan realises, “Beekeeping in South Africa will change forever, we will never be able to keep bees the way we used to”. A nationwide inspection reveals the disease’s presence is already more wide spread than anticipated.

Midst the anxious atmosphere of the beekeeping community the wisdom of a few begins to surface. South African bees have never been susceptible to international bee diseases. ‘The diseases our bees have encountered in the past have always been overcome, naturally and in reasonably short periods of time.’ Beekeeper Robert Post reflects.

The fact that Africa, unlike most developed countries, still retains a completely wild bee population is resultant in an extremely robust and diverse genetic diversity. ‘Ask any geneticist, diversity is strength.’ Remarks biochemist and beekeeper Dr. Garth Cambray. He is determined that given the chance, the bees will no doubt develop natural immunity to the bacteria.

Brendan is another who believes in this approach, “I am prepared to carry on culling my bees until we get to a stage that the bees are tolerant to the disease… whatever’s left.”

Mike Allsopp expresses concern on the fact that, “if colony losses are big enough, beekeepers will have no choice but to start treating”.

This South African case scenario is typical of the rising challenges the honeybees and beekeeping industry is facing every year. In most developed countries the dependence on medication and commercial queen breeding programmes has led to loss of genetic diversity, making them more susceptible to disease.

Wild colonies have practically seized to exist in most parts of Europe and North America.

The film aims is to understand, through the experiences of very traditional beekeepers, whether our systems have the ability to patiently allow nature to take its course or have the demands of people caused that time to run out.

Carlos Francisco

Phone: +27 (0) 82 494 3175
Fax: +27(0)86 663 3011
Skype: carlostone
www.ahbfilms.co.za
 


Does the flower make the honeybee or the honeybee the flower?