How to Bee explores beekeeping, father-daughter relationships, and chronic illness

A beekeeping project became a way for a filmmaker and her dad to come to terms with the thing that no one wanted to talk about.

"It was my goal to learn from my dad how to be present and exist in the moment"

An image from How to BEE. (Naomi Mark)

In 2015, filmmaker Naomi Mark returned home to Yukon after several years living in Vancouver. After a bout of pneumonia, her father informed the family of his chronic lung condition, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Growing up with four other siblings meant there wasn't always time for a lot of one-on-one, and Mark wanted to spend as much quality time with her dad as possible. She decided the best way to do this was to find a project they could both work on together.

"At the time, Dad had just returned to an old passion of beekeeping," Mark told CBC Arts. "On a visit home, he took me on a mission to move a beehive one night. Although beekeeping permeates memories of my childhood, it was never something I was really involved with. Getting to help my dad as an adult showed me two things: honeybees are completely fascinating, and learning to keep bees from my dad was something that wasn't going to be an option for too much longer."

As Mark learned the ins and outs of beekeeping from her father, she documented the experience on her camera. It was a habit for the filmmaker, recording video was how she organized her thoughts. Initially Mark believed the footage could be turned into something light: how to videos or a blooper reel highlighting her father's ornery charm. But looking at the footage — and recognizing the realities of her dad's condition — she quickly realized there was potential for a much deeper and more personal story.

"It can be difficult to spend time with someone who is ill, but learning to keep bees it meant that we always had something to focus on outside of his health....over time the narrative really shifted our relationship and how the beekeeping project was becoming a way for us to come to terms with the thing that no one wanted to talk about."

Over the two years that Mark filmed her father, his health continued to deteriorate. Balancing the roles of filmmaker, beekeeper, and attentive daughter became increasingly difficult. How could she attend to the bees and help look after her pops? Did the camera force them to deal with truths they weren't ready for? The push and pull of these relationships are chronicled in Mark's first feature documentary How to Bee.

The film uses the framework of beekeeping to tell a beautifully-raw and strikingly-honest story about grief, longing, and family. Over the course of the two hour film, audiences are offered an intimate view of Mark learning about her father's honey farming, while simultaneously her dad learns about her filmmaking. The backdrop of the project centres on their responses to mortality. 
An image from How to BEE. (Naomi Mark)

How to Bee has been showing at festivals across North America and was recently the winner of Best Feature Documentary at the Rhode Island Film Festival. For Mark, the success has been bitter sweet. She's extremely proud of her work and grateful to share her father's wisdom and humour with audiences. At the same time, losing her dad was one of the hardest experiences she's ever gone through. In viewing the documentary, Mark hopes that viewers take away some of the same lessons she learned herself.

"I have learned so much from making this film and I continue to learn from it and the experience. The biggest lesson by far has been about learning to accept failure and endings as a part of the cycle of success and life ... it was my goal to learn from my dad how to be present and exist in the moment unencumbered by all the thoughts hopes and fears of the moments ahead," she said.

"I hope that audiences come away from watching How To Bee with a sense of how important it is to let oneself slow down and really be present — especially when faced with something as big and scary as losing your parent." 

Click here for more information about the documentary and future screenings.