Skip to main content
  • The Secret Life of Pollinators in My Garden of a Thousand Bees

    Outdoor Film Screening on Friday, June 24, at 6 p.m.
    A man, out of focus, watches a honeybee hovering above a purple flower.

    Photo by Hugh Campbell, Passion Planet

    For months while on lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, acclaimed wildlife filmmaker Martin Dohrn filmed the bees in his urban backyard in Bristol, England. He closely followed individual bees and discovered sixty bee species lived right outside his back door. Dohrn gained their trust and documented their behaviors, all with specialized lenses he crafted himself.

    What began as a project in his spare time became a full-length film, My Garden of a Thousand Bees, which premiered on PBS in October 2021. And on June 24 at 6 p.m., the film will be brought to the National Mall for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival as part of the Earth Optimism × Folklife program. 

    My Garden of a Thousand Bees is a production of Passion Planet, The WNET Group, and HHMI Tangled Bank Studios in association with Ammonite Films. The film is presented with support from HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, which has built a nationwide impact campaign around the film with PBS Nature, focused on educating audiences about the importance of pollinators and how they can help them.

    “There was an opportunity here to really change the way people think about bees and to help them understand there’s a lot more to bees than honey,” said Jared Lipworth, an executive producer and head of outreach and impact at HHMI Tangled Bank Studios. “This film focuses primarily on native bees, which are important pollinators and quite different from honeybees.”

    HHMI Tangled Bank Studios is a mission-driven production company that produces powerful films about science and scientists. Many of their documentaries invite audiences to learn about how science can help protect and restore the natural world. When Dohrn’s film came to the studio during the coronavirus pandemic, producers immediately saw a connection between the film’s content and the studio’s goals.

    “We’re looking for content and programs that inspire people to care about the planet, to understand the importance of science in protecting the planet,” Lipworth said. “As a mission-focused studio, we not only support a film’s production, but also ensure its message is widespread by building an educational outreach campaign. For Dohrn’s film, the studio wanted to focus on encouraging people to engage with their local ecosystems and support pollinators.”

    HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and PBS Nature launched the #PlantWildflowers campaign around My Garden of a Thousand Bees to encourage people to learn about – and protect - pollinators, from bees and butterflies to wasps and beetles . With leading educational, conservation and media organizations, including World Wildlife Fund’s Wild Classroom and PBS Learning, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios created and distributed a suite of free educational materials , tools and videos. In celebration of the film, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and Nature joined World Wildlife Fund’s “One Square Foot” initiative to encourage people across the U.S. to learn about pollinators and plant one square foot of native wildflowers to support them.

    HHMI Tangled Bank Studios partnered with an organization calledSTAR Net, which works to bring STEM content to local libraries, to provide libraries with the opportunity to apply for grants to screen the film for their audiences, share pollinator-focused education materials, and host pollinator-related events. These events range from planting wildflower seeds to using community science apps like iNaturalist and Seek to partake in a “BioBlitz”, which allows users to collect information on their local plant and wildlife and contribute to scientific databases.

    “We have close to 300 libraries participating, we have five big PBS stations, and we also have somewhere in the range of about thirty different national organizations that are involved in bee conservation and pollinator research,” Lipworth said. “In all, by the end of August, I think we will end up with around 600 events around the country.”

    This month, My Garden of a Thousand Bees and the #PlantWildflowers campaign will come to the National Mall with Earth Optimism.

    For HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, the partnership with Earth Optimism, which began before the Folklife Festival, was a no-brainer. “We have a similar mission: we are looking to share positive stories about conservation,” Lipworth said.

    Close-up of a bee on a small blue flower.
    Red mason bee
    Photo by Martin Dohrn

    The studio partnered with the Earth Optimism Summit a couple of years ago and engages regularly with the Earth Optimism team throughout the year on global conservation issues. The Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism effort seeks to “change the conservation narrative” around climate activism to one of positive solutions and impact, and the Earth Optimism × Folklife program at the Festival will highlight the more hopeful shift, rather than the usual doom and gloom approach.
    “Our approach as a studio is to look for the positive stories to share,” Lipworth said of the connection between the studio and Earth Optimism. “We immediately recognized that there were a lot of synergies between what we were trying to do and what they were trying to do.”

    At the Folklife Festival, My Garden of a Thousand Bees will screen outdoors at the Ralph Rinzler Main Stage as the central event in HHMI Tangled Bank Studios’ programming with Earth Optimism × Folklife. According to Lipworth, the film lends itself to an outdoor viewing with small bees projected on a large screen. “It’s been a dream since the beginning to do an outdoor screening of this film,” he said.

    The studio’s hope for filmgoers? “It’s pretty simple,” Lipworth said. “See bees like you’ve never seen them before.”

    And through Dohrn’s lenses, viewers will get just that: an up-close and personal introduction to the complexities and beauty of bees. The audience will follow the bees’ secret lives and become intimately familiar with them just as Dohrn did, meeting pollinators like Nicky, the woodcarving leafcutter bee. With the help of accompanying programming and the #PlantWildflowers campaign, the film will educate Festival viewers on the power and importance of pollinators.

    “It’s an eye-opening look at the amazing world of bees, which we hope will spark interest in seeing them in a different way and doing what you can to protect them,” Lipworth said.

    My Garden of a Thousand Bees will screen outdoors on Friday, June 24, at 6 p.m. at the Rinzler Stage on the National Mall. The event is free and open to the public. Popcorn, drinks, and special #PlantWildflowers items will be given out for free to the first 100 guests. Assisted listening devices and captioning will be provided.

    Visitors can learn more about bees and other pollinators at the Festival by visiting the People-Powered Science tent and the Festival’s Pollinator Garden full of native wildflowers. and educational stations including the “Be Kind to Bees” session at 11 a.m. on June 24 and July 2.

    Visitors can learn more about bees and other pollinators at the Earth Optimism × Folklife program by interacting with the pollinator garden full of native wildflowers and by participating in family activities like “Be Kind to Bees” (June 24 at 11 a.m. and July 2 at noon) and “Bee Discovery and Drawing” led by artists from Peppermint Narwhal (June 24 at 1 p.m.) in the People-Powered Science tent.

    A man looks through the lens of a professional camera on a tripod, with a lighting fixture aimed at white flowers of a bush.
    Martin Dohrn films bees in his garden in Bristol, UK.
    Photo by Hugh Campbell, Passion Planet

    Annabella Hoge is an intern with the 2022 Folklife Festival’s media team. She is a rising senior at Georgetown University studying American studies, anthropology, and journalism and hails from Los Angeles, California. Her favorite wildflower is the California poppy.

  • Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.