A film by Sarah Christman
2019, 86 minutes
No. 238


On the remote volcanic island of Hawaii, 10-year-old Manu and her mother collect wild, endangered bees in order to breed disease-resistant colonies. Her father is protesting on the sacred mountain Mauna Kea against the establishment of a gigantic telescope. On a neighboring mountain, six NASA scientists practice living on Mars, and under the ground and the water, the Kilauea volcano quivers fatefully.

The scientific view of the world and the cosmology of the indigenous people are both components of Sarah Christman's feature debut. With an artist's eye for details and plenty of time for amazement, Swarm Season draws fascinating parallels between the micro- and macrocosm, and challenges our understanding of nature, the world and ourselves. The form is sensory, impressionistic and free, with space for our own interpretations, while also razor-sharp, when Christman observes the bees, their necessary swarming and the intricate engineering of their hives as a prism to look at all life around us. If honey bees - one of the most robust and cooperative species on this planet - are threatened with extinction, what future does humanity have on Earth?

Official Selection, Art of the Real
Official Selection, CPH:DOX
Official Selection, Sheffield Doc Fest
Official Selection, Maryland Film Festival

"This impressionistic documentary is a heavenly and entrancing look at the end of the world. It’s an intensely well-made film, finding something truly moving in between the worlds of NASA and indigenous cosmology." - Joshua Brunsting, CriterionCast

“A puzzle-like enigma that tantalizingly circles around its subjects. Christman's documentary resembles a work of science fiction.” - David Perrin, MUBI Notebook.

"Highly unusual, with its off-kilter images, a sci-fi sound design, and Terrence Malick-like attention to the natural world (complete with child narrator), the meditative doc deftly juxtaposes a breathtaking Hawaiian landscape with the indigenous folks trying to protect it—and their way of life—from corporate industry (tourist, science and real estate alike)." - Lauren Wissot, Documentary.org

"Offers a cosmic take on the honeybee crisis in Hawaii." - J. Hoberman, New York Review of Books

"Swarm Season features some spectacular scenery of molten lava flowing out to sea, miles of barren black field created by volcanic eruptions, the underwater explosions, as well as intimate, tender moments with Manu and her family. The film's philosophical musings and seeing the bigger picture don't overshadow its anthropological study of its people and surroundings. It's a great film." - Dustin Chang, Screen Anarchy

"A cycle of shots showcasing the splendour of nature – in waves, volcanoes, flowers and trees – shows what, for Christman and her Hawaiian collaborators – is directly at stake, whilst the film’s ever-anxious tone evokes just how imperilled everything is, in a wider, planetary sense." - Matt Turner, Frieze