Silence of the Bees

Dozens of students filled the hushed auditorium on the evening of Tuesday, September 25, eagerly awaiting sound that never came. Santa Monica College’s guest speaker, George Langworthy, gave an impromptu Q&A session when the audio at the screening of renowned documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, went awry.

Vanishing of the Bees was the first of this semester’s Green Screen Series at SMC, a sequence of environmental documentaries chosen to run throughout the next few months. The Green Screen Series has proven to be a big hit in the past, but this season kicked off serous technical difficulties. After the audience waited for 30 minutes past the scheduled start time, Langworthy was prompted by the tech-maintenance crew to start his Q&A beforehand, rather than after the film, and the pressure was on. 

Because the movie had yet to begin, the audience buzzed with questions about what initially caused this issue and how the bee problem has developed since the movie was released. ”Well, it’s a little bit of a spoiler…” Langworthy joked in response. “This disappearance of the bees is linked to the pesticides that are used in these massive, agricultural, monoculture farming.” Langworthy explained. He continued to, in a sense, summarize the film and illustrate his process in creating it. “Another thing that we really focused on in the film is going to different countries. We filmed in Germany, Italy, France, Australia, England… It was something that was happening all over the world, it was a real epidemic.”

After a substantial effort to obtain the audio for the film, faculty decided to play the first 20 minutes with no sound, only subtitles. “We’ll see how it goes,” says Dr. Sheila Laffey, a film studies professor at SMC who was assisting with the event.

After a few minutes of utter silence, the atmosphere in the room shifted. The audience became enveloped into each frame, carefully analyzing the film in a way that sound would inherently distract from. From the anticipation following the slow motion frame of a gentle honeybee to the soundless pounds of pesticides being sprayed over a crop field, it was as if the lack of sound brought upon the audience a different way of seeing the issue at hand. Although the absence of audio deprived the listeners of hard-hitting facts, the story itself was not lost to anyone.

“To not be distracted by sound and just to focus on the visuals was very instructive, I thought,” Laffey began after the film segment was shown. The audience nodded in agreement as they welcomed Langworthy and his co-director/producer, Maryam Henein, back to the stage for a final Q&A with the audience. The directors shared some humorous tidbits, progress among the honeybee movement, and the reality of beekeeping in the city to end the evening. All the while, SMC’s tech crew remained hopelessly tinkering away at the auditorium sound system.