The Pollinators

A documentary film project about honey bees and migratory beekeepers

Mind Bog-gling!

The cranberry harvest was just mind blowing to see.  I had filmed cranberry bogs when they were in flower and covered in bees earlier in the year. I thought at the time that the tiny flower was so lovely and delicate, subtle in shape and color, a very pale pink rimmed with cranberry red, like a miniature lily.  The bogs were covered in flowers since cranberries grow so close together, but I was amazed at the amount of berries that came off of just one bog.  The special harvester drives around the flooded bog in slow concentric circles, jostling the cranberries off the plant which float to the surface of the bog once they have been detached.  It was a stunning volume and beautiful display of colors. The cranberries are corralled down to one end of the bog to be gently transferred to a waiting dump truck and sent off to be sorted and packed.  Since each flower has to be visited multiple times by a bee, It puts the number of bees needed for this pollination into perspective. 

Be(e) in the Room

Paley Center DocPitch Competition

As part of my ongoing fundraising efforts for The Pollinators, I applied to the Paley Center Doc Pitch Competition “Be in the Room” this year and was selected as one of five finalists.  

The finalists were given the opportunity to pitch our projects to a panel of 5 distinguished judges and in front of an audience at the Paley Center in New York City.  The judges are some key figures in feature and television documentaries and an incredible line up executives.  

Each of the five finalists were given 10 minutes to pitch their projects which includes a 5 minute clip of footage from the film.  The panelists were given the opportunity to ask the filmmaker questions about their project, completion plans for the film and also critique the pitches which I found really helpful.  

It was a terrific opportunity to pitch for The Pollinators project at this early stage and I believe it will be really helpful in the future as I move through editorial towards completion. 

The other contestants had amazing projects and all of them were really unique. The subjects covered social justice to historical to issue films and it was great to meet and be in company with such passionate talented filmmakers.  The $5000 prize for the winning pitch was donated by A&E IndieFilms towards the completion of the film.

I practiced in front of some amazing assembled friends the night before, took their notes on my delivery, rewrote my pitch based on that.  I have to admit I was a bit nervous, but confident in my belief in this film and I gave it my best shot and….I won.  

Needless to say, I am thrilled.  While I felt really good about my pitch to the panel, the other projects were really interesting and their pitches very strong, so I was a pleasantly surprised to be chosen as the winner.  I also won the audience award which was a great validation.  I am not the most comfortable public speaker, so this was a great experience for me to practice and deliver a pitch for The Pollinators and get some great feedback on the pitch and the film. 

I was honored to be given the opportunity to pitch to such a distinguished panel, to meet some truly amazing people and tell them about this film.  

Thank you to Paley Center and A&E Indie Films.

Blueberries As Far As One Can See

I'm just coming back from making a trip to Cherryfield Maine.

It's my third trip there this year, and it's on a 10-and-a-half to 11-hour drive to this part of Maine where berries grow natively in the Barrens as they call them.

It's a very rocky and sandy area which is terrific habitat for blueberries, although they are cultivated, so that's an interesting distinction. They're managed and cared for by the blueberry growers.

 

I went up there to film the crop of blueberries that came in. I was up twice for the pollination and the deployment of beehives by Dave Hackenberg and Bob Harvey out into the blueberries because they need extensive pollination.

I wanted to come back and film the actual blueberries on the ground. It is just a stunning density of blueberries here – a bush variety that is very low to the ground.

The blueberries are just so thick on the plants that it just turns the ground kind of blue, purple reddish color as you look off into the distance in the midst of the green of the of the leaves that are still visible.

So it's it's a beautiful – very much like a chalk drawing when you look at it from above or from a distance. It's just a spectacular part of the world up here. It's something that it's dependent upon honeybees to pollinate.

It's a very interesting crop of most of us encounter weekly and just takes for granted and so it's it's interesting to see these wonderful plants and blueberries come to fruit.

Fantastic News

Fantastic news.

Burt’s Bees has signed on as a supporter of “The Pollinators”. We are so excited and grateful to have their support, encouragement and their faith in “The Pollinators” project. The Burt’s Bees team recognizes that this is an important story and are helping us share it. They are an ideal partner to have for this film and I look forward to working with them throughout the process. Burt’s Bees is a socially conscious company that has vision recognizing the vital role that honey bees play in all our lives. I am grateful and honored to them.

“The Good of the Hive” mural by Matthew Willey. Photos by Matthew Willey

FaceTime Class Visit to the Almond Orchards

One of the hopes I have for this project was to use technology to connect students to the bees and pollination and bring the field into the classroom. I had been in touch with Julianna Parham from Good Food Sandhills in Moore County North Carolina.

Julianna was enthusiastic about trying this out and thought her after school group would like it. After a couple of test calls home and working out a couple of bugs in this, I was able to make a FaceTime call from an almond orchard directly to Julianna’s class and program.

I had asked Julianna if she could get some almonds as part of the discussion on her end. We had a really nice discussion on FaceTime and I was able to show the class the almond orchard where I was filming, the flowers on the trees and the bee hives placed nearby that were pollinating the almond flowers.

I found a couple of last year’s un-shelled nuts and was able to show the class what unprocessed nuts looked like so they could connect all those things to the processed almonds they had on their end.There were some great questions from the students about bees and almonds and it was enjoyed by all.

I hope to have future conversations during the season from other orchards and fields along the way. It was fun and cool and a great opportunity to show something unique to a school group 3000 miles away.

One at a Time

As I sit in the airport waiting to fly to Bakersfield, California to start principle photography of “The Pollinators”, I am humbled, thoroughly excited and a bit nervous to be starting this epic journey following beekeepers around for a year. It promises to be a “journey” of many aspects. Literally it will be a journey with these beekeepers as we work to understand the role of pollination in all our lives. It will also be a journey for me as a filmmaker, one that I cannot say where it will precisely end and the route that I will take to get there, though I know the route will change along the way. That dynamic element is exciting and part of the documentary filmmaking process. Ideally we learn along the way (a daily goal for me), meet wonderful and passionate people that open new doors and affect the course of the project.

No doubt, I will get a few stings in the process, literally and figuratively.
These commercial beekeepers I will be working with are some of the hardest working people I have ever met; they literally work night and day. That inspires me to work as hard as them.
I am absolutely thrilled to get going and I am able to do this because of a generous anonymous grant from a foundation that believed in my idea for this project and granted me enough to get started. I wish I could thank them publicly right now, but respect their request for anonymity. So thank you.


I will be continuing to raise funds as I progress with the filming. I have gathered a lot of interest, some very promising prospects and lots of encouraging and enthusiastic support, but if you have any funding ideas or folks who might be interested in helping support this project, please share them with me.

Recently, I asked a commercial beekeeper how he remained so calm in advance of unloading hundreds of tractor trailers with tens of thousands of hives with millions of bees and this wise beekeeper said, “you just unload them one at a time”.
The ultimate pragmatic approach.
And good advice for making a film too. 

Dave and Davey

I spent a day filming some interviews with Dave and Davey Hackenberg at their shop and home in Pennsylvania last December. It was a preliminary video shoot with them for “The Pollinators”. They are a great father/son team and have a delightful banter as they talk about their roles in the business. Dave is a legend in the beekeeping world and I have heard him referred to as the father of Colony Collapse Disorder, not because he invented it of course, but because he was the guy that sounded the alarm about CCD back in 2005 when he discovered massive disappearances of their bees. Dave is a plain spoken pragmatic guy with a dry sense of humor and he lives bees.

Davey is doing much of the day to day operation of the business and moves bees around all over the place loading and unloading at night and working to keep the bees healthy during the day.
I wanted to do interviews with them in advance of the main filming and also rushed to get their thoughts going into the winter when their bees are down south. The latest challenge for bees is the fear of the Zika virus. Spraying for that has adversely affected bees and some say excessive and careless spraying has already killed millions of bees down in the southern US. Another challenge facing beekeepers.


I have tremendous respect and admiration for what the Hackenbergs do and how hard they work. I look forward to spending a lot of time over this year with these guys. 

“The Pollinators”

I love documentary films because I have an insatiable curiosity about the world.
As a kid growing up in rural New England, I spent much of my youth outside joyfully exploring the natural world around me. I was a kid who wanted to know what creature lived under a rock, what bird made a particular nest and which critter dug a hole in the ground. I lifted tons rocks, climbed up and fell out of many a tree and poked a lot of sticks in the ground to see what might come out. Sometimes I got stung and bitten, but that is the nature of discovery and more often I found interesting things that kept me at it. I continued to bring snakes and snapping turtles to school, grew vegetables and flowers in our gardens and laid on my back watching the clouds and wondered how they formed.


I started keeping bees as a direct result of that insatiable interest in the natural world.
I’d always had a real interest in bees, so I read a few books about beekeeping, bought a beekeeping kit, a package of bees and I was hooked and have been keeping honey bees for the past 28 years in the Hudson Valley of New York. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, picked up mentors along the way and continue to learn something to this day. One wonderful thing about keeping bees is when we think we start to have a handle on it, the bees or nature will throw a curve that keep us guessing and humble.


For me, honey bees are endlessly fascinating and I get lost in casually studying their behavior and the wonderfully complex society they inhabit, all working in various and specific capacities toward the common good and dependent upon their fellow bees.

A true superorganism.

PeterNelsonPhantom_GI7A2418.jpg


My inquisitive nature also led me to make a career in documentaries where I have had the privilege of parachuting into peoples’s world to explore and report on those worlds. “The Pollinators” project is based on that premise, but it is also much more; a true labor of love and the confluence of several of my own passions: Beekeeping, food, gardening and filmmaking.
Over the years, I periodically noticed trucks loaded with pallets of bee hives on the highways. My curiosity got the better of me and I became intrigued by this special group of beekeepers that move bees around the country pollinating agricultural crops.
I started asking the questions of why they do this; is it the increasing size and corporate nature of agriculture, are wild and native bees that scarce and so on.
I wondered what these migratory beekeepers could tell me about that.


Several months later, commercial migratory beekeeper Dave Hackenberg met me in a supermarket parking lot off Route 495 in Massachusetts on his way back from placing bees in blueberry fields. Dave kindly stopped to meet with me and talk about what I wanted to do with his project. He listened carefully to my concept, asked me a few questions and quickly said he wanted to take part in the film. Dave is decisive, direct and tells it like it is, so I knew immediately that I had found a fantastic beekeeper to help tell this story.
That was the start of this journey. 

© 2017 The Pollinators