(Credit for the cover photo of Maryam Henein goes to Megan Evans) Over the years, I’ve interviewed talents who have worked in non-fiction. Whether they’ve spent time as journalists, like Jewel Shepard and Deborah Voorhees, or directed documentaries, like Michelle Maren and Tane McClure, their non-fiction endeavors have been as interesting as their work in movies and television. My next interview subject, Maryam Henein, is different, though, in that documentaries and journalism are her primary focuses, and non-fiction is a realm where she’s been doing great work for over two decades now.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of her documentary Vanishing Of The Bees, I talked to Maryam about, among other things, documentaries, journalism, recovering from an accident, and how that recovery led her to work towards helping to make a better world.
This interview was not what I expected, but that can be a good thing, and I hope you enjoy reading it.
Say hello to Maryam Henein!
Johnny: What was the inspiration to make Vanishing Of The Bees?
Maryam: Well, shortly before the making of the film, I was hit by an SUV on Melrose Avenue and dragged 50 feet across the cement. I broke several bones and had a 14-inch metal rod put in my femur, so I had a near-death experience, and I wanted to do something that makes a difference in the world. Shortly after that, the bees flew into my life, and they represent so many beautiful aspects. They are responsible for every one of three food bites that we eat, and they also represent The Sacred Feminine and the greater good. Bees are millions of years old, and shortly after, I started having actual bee visitations. I did a deep dive as an investigative journalist and learned the importance of the bees, and how they’re dying all over the world, so what inspired me is to do something that makes a difference.
Johnny: Alright. What’s the most interesting story you have from filming Vanishing Of The Bees?
Maryam: I would say how we found Ellen Page. We had a shortlist of celebrities we wanted to approach, inclduing Maggie Gyllenhall and Gwyneth Paltrow, and we actually got an interest from Maggie. The reason why we went with Ellen Page was that our film came out in the UK first, narrated by Emilia Fox, but I wasn’t really pleased with it. It was a little bit too British, and a friend of mine suggested getting a copy of the movie to share to his friend, which, at the time, he didn’t tell me was Leonardo DiCaprio because they had filmed The Beach together and become friends. Leo showed it to his mom and watched the film, and then flash-forward a couple of weeks later. They were on the set on Inception, and an associate director, I think, killed a bee near the crafts table, and Ellen Page found out and started schooling him about the importance of honeybees, and the fact that they were dying all over. Leo heard of this and then introduced Ellen to our common friend, Peter Hill. He showed Ellen the UK version, and she agreed to narrate it, so I tell people that a honeybee gave up her life in order to bring us to Ellen Page. Certainly that’s a pretty cool story.
Johnny: Definitely. What message do you hope people will take away from the documentary?
Maryam: That we’re all being poisoned in semi-lethal doses, and honeybees are very important to our livelihoods and our future, and they are environmental indicators.
Johnny: Alright. Another IMDB credit I’ve noticed is this: You’ve written a documentary called CrazyHot, which is about the enjoyment of spicy foods with a particular focus on peppers. A more lighthearted topic for a documentary, what can you tell me about the inspiration behind it, and how close is it to completion?
Maryam: It’s not my film. I don’t know what it was. I was hired to develop it. I think it’s about to come out. I could put you in touch with the producer. Why I got involved with it? I’m a researcher at heart, and an investigative journalist, so the history of the pepper was interesting to me, and I did this to help a friend.
Johnny: Alright. To my next question: Much of your documentary work has been done in England for companies like ITV and the BBC. What would you say is the biggest difference between British documentaries and American documentaries?
Maryam: Well, I worked for British television companies in the early 2000s, so typically, I would think documentaries have, in the past, been taken more seriously in England. They have more teeth, but the landscape has changed quite a bit. I have to say that, personally, as a Canadian I get along quite well with Brits. and I appreciate their humor and sensibilities.
Johnny: Alright. When it comes to documentary film-making, who have been your biggest influences?
Maryam: I would say Herzog and Errol Morris.
Johnny: On a similar note, which documentarians would you say have taught you what NOT to do when making a documentary?
Maryam: I think a pretty shitty documentary is called What The Health?. It’s very sloppy, and it’s actually just vegan propaganda. It’s not balanced, so any film that has a hidden agenda.
Johnny: Alright. Since I am on your Wikipedia page, it says here you interviewed Morgan Spurlock for Penthouse. When the stories about him came out in the wake of the MeToo movement, how did you react after having interviewed him?
Maryam: I don’t know what stories have come out in the wake of the MeToo movement. I can tell you that a lot of women have taken advantage of the MeToo movement, and ruined men’s lives. That’s what I think. What’s the story with Spurlock?
Johnny: According to his Wikipedia page, which is linked to a report on MSNBC, in 2017 he admitted to a history of sexual misconduct.
Maryam: I think that a lot of lives have been ruined with things taken out of context, and while it’s great to put a voice and bring things to the surface, there’s a lot of women who have taken advantage and ruined men’s lives, and they’re just as shitty as the men. You want to talk about Harvey Weinstein? Everybody knew he was a pig, so it’s great that it came out into the open and there was justice, and it would be great to have justice with other pigs out there, but there are a lot of things that have been taken out of context. Let’s say Al Franken, where whole lives are destroyed and taken out of context without having a proper trail where all the evidence is taken into consideration. There’s a lot of lies out there today, and people are zombies who are not doing any critical thinking or asking correct questions, and just taking the media at face value.
Johnny: When it came to Al Franken, I did feel sorry for him somewhat because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, and because of that, I have trouble reading people’s actions and words, and so it gets a little confusing for me, like with Al Franken, because I know it’s a joke and I feel sorry for him, but I did look at the picture and it seemed a little unnerving. He explained himself and said it was a joke, and in my mind, the wires get crossed and I get a little confused.
Maryam: It’s okay. No need to apologize. There is a lot of unfairness and things taken out of context, and people’s lives are ruined. We’re human and we make mistakes. It’s a spectrum. On one end, it’s Harvey Weinstein. On the other, Al Franken. It’s up to people to make a discernment. How many people’s lives have been ruined? I stand for the First Amendment. Ruining Roseanne Barr’s life? She’s not a racist. Anyone who has any fucking brains or intuition can tap in and see she’s no more racist than you or me, and her whole life was turned upside down, so I stand for the First Amendment. It has nothing to do with being a Roseanne Barr fan, because I’m not, but I stand for the right to express ourselves. Her original Tweet was taken out of context. She was accused of being a racist. The makers of Ambien (laughing) sent a Tweet out, stating that they’re not racists. Well, they’ve been responsible. Their medicine makes people fuck and not have any knowledge, eat and not have any knowledge, drive and have no knowledge, even murder and have no knowledge. There are cases of all of this. Do you blame the drugs? Yeah, I blame the drugs. Of course, Roseanne shouldn’t have been drinking. That’s just stupid. However, this is a dangerous drug. Again, people don’t do their research. They just take things at face value and they form their beliefs.
Johnny: To move on to a lighter note, what can you tell me about First Apartment?
Maryam: First Apartment was produced by the Gantz Brothers, well-known for Taxicab Confessions, which aired on HBO. I lived on camera on the internet at a time when reality TV was just kind of making its’ debut, and I personally did it in order to write about it. I don’t think the show ever really saw the light of day, and I personally quite disliked living in The Tenderloin in San Francisco.
Johnny: Alright. Mentioning reality TV, I have to ask: It’s often said that there’s not much reality on reality TV, and what is perceived to be reality is really just as fictional as the latest blockbuster, so do you feel that reality TV had a negative impact on documentary film-making?
Maryam: Oh, no. I think it probably generated interest. What happened? Is it manipulated? Does it keep you in the zombie zone watching tragedies? I mean, a reality show like the Kardashians, which I’ve only watched once out of a kind of curiosity, is like distraction bullshit, but I think that, more than ever, when I made the film Vanishing Of The Bees, which we started filming in 2007, there’s a lot more resources and opportunities to make a documentary today, so I think it’s a little bit of both. Is there any kind of substance to reality TV? No. Why are we glorifying these people on television that are most often dysfunctional? At the same time, it’s fascinating and serves to keep people zoned into television. I got fired as a producer on a reality show early, early, on because I told a director I’d rather read when he asked me what my favorite reality shows were. I’d been hired to do some pretty superficial shit for shows, and I had a near-death experience and almost died, like I said earlier. I wanted to do something that makes a difference, as opposed to being hired to find wedding planners that I, personally, don’t give a crap about.
Johnny: It is very admirable stuff that you’re doing. Earlier, you mentioned HoneyColony. Did that come before Vanishing Of The Bees or after?
Maryam: It came after and was inspired by Vanishing Of The Bees.
Johnny: Alright. What’s been the most rewarding part of working on HoneyColony?
Maryam: Well, being my own boss, putting out content that actually makes a difference and is not fluffy Cosmo bullshit, like I like to say. As an entrepreneur, I mention that I was targeted and lost about a quarter of a million in sales and shut down, all because of the frontlines of the CBD movement, so that was extremely difficult. I have spent the past year rescuing my company and putting it back on the map, so it’s rewarding knowing that I’m doing something that actually helps people.
Johnny: That is good. Looking at your Wikipedia page, it’s mentioned that you were working on a memoir called Of Bees And Men. Is that still in the works, or was that put on the back-burner?
Maryam: It’s put on the back-burner. I’ve been looking for an agent, putting together proposals on CBD, and Of Bees And Men is a coming of age tale about bees, boys, and the stickiness of love. It’s looking at love addiction, and the backdrop is the making of the movie and the unraveling of colony collapse.
Johnny: I see. It sounds like an interesting topic, and I hope that it does come to fruition.
Maryam: Thank you, Johnny. I appreciate that.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. Another question I have is: As you’re of Egyptian descent, do you feel that documentary film-making can be done in the Middle East, or do you think that restrictions there may make it more difficult?
Maryam: I’m not Muslim. I was hired to host a documentary on The Ark Of The Covenant, so that was my first and probably last time visiting Egypt. As a brown, non-Muslim woman, I found it to be very oppressive and unenjoyable, so I can’t really speak about the nature of documentary film-making there.
Johnny: Alright. This year does mark the 10th anniversary of Vanishing Of The Bees, so have you considered a crowdfunding effort to make a limited edition Blu-Ray or DVD of the project?
Maryam: I think we have the film on Blu-Ray. I’m not the sole director, so it would take George wanting to do something, but it crossed my mind many times. I’m, personally, pretty disappointed that Netflix is no longer streaming our movie. I mean, who the hell is getting DVDs now in this day and age, because they focus on their content. The film is still relevant and, as you know, docs oftentimes have a shelf life, but I tell people that because the bees are still dying, my movie is still alive. It’s still very relevant. I’m surprised that people in 2019 are still unaware that one in every three bites of food is pollenated thanks to a honeybee, so one of my taglines for the film is “This is a film for anybody who likes to eat”.
Johnny: I see. Speaking of eating, how would you describe your own eating habits? Are you vegan? Vegetarian? Do you eat meat?
Maryam: No. There’s a misconception that if you’re a health person, you’re a vegan or a vegetarian. You can look up my picture. I’m 46 years old. I’ve been hit by a car. I’ve been exposed to pesticides. I reversed my lupus and fibromyalgia. People think that I’m 30. They don’t know what I’m doing not to age. I stand as an inspiration of what is possible. Food is highly personal, and unique to eat for your gut biome for the goal of what you’re trying to achieve. That said, I do not eat sugar. I do not eat wheat. I do not eat diary. I do not eat processed foods. I’m kind of a food Nazi, but I do eat organic, grass-fed, grass-raised meat at times, and for me, instead of being dogmatic or religious about food as vegans and vegetarians are, and oftentimes they look unhealthy, the goal is to really focus on eating clean because the food supply is adulterated and poisoned. I work with people as a functional medicine coach to help people get healthy, and I see the myriad health problems we’re dealing with today, and medicine is quite clueless.
Johnny: The type of coaching you mentioned: Did your accident lead you to that field, or was it something else?
Maryam: Definitely my accident. It’s all about our food supply, so I had my eyes open as to the sick way we farm, and today the most planted crops are soy, corn, and rice, and they’re either genetically modified or doused with pesticides. Take strawberries. They’re one of the most highly sprayed foods. One strawberry, if it’s conventional and not organic, can come into contact with at least, let’s say 7, different herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. I kind of created HoneyColony looking at honeybees, and we’re proverbally kind of foraging for sources of nectar and pollen in the form of content and simply transformative solutions that can help people. Ironically, while at an environmental film festival in the Dominican Republic, I was, myself, sprayed by pesticides, and shortly after was diagnosed with lupus and fibromyalgia. When I asked a doctor, “Could this be a chemical body burden?”, there was just a blank stare, so they’re clueless. I really had to take health into my own hands, and that really inspired me to empower other people, and so I believe that I stand to inspire others as an example of what is possible. If I was able to learn to walk again, if I was able to reverse an autoimmune condition which is said to have no cure, then other people can be motivated to get better.
Johnny: Definitely. Apologies if this question sounds repetitive, but what went into reversing your autoimmune condition and eliminating it?
Maryam: Sure. I don’t think it’s repetitive. I did create an e-book on how I reversed my autoimmune condition, but really, again from a functional medicine point of view, health is personalized. For me, it was acknowledging that there was some kind of toxicity, and to bolster the immune system. When you’re doing a deep dive, you see that there’s metal, or there’s mold, some type of immunity issue because this person has grown up taking antibiotics. There’s a lot of usual suspects, so in my case, doing something like coffee enemas, doing something like infusions of antioxidants, taking CBD oil, eliminating grains and sugars, so I personally follow now more of a ketogenic diet. If you look at our society, most people are suffering from insulin resistance, so someone might say, “Well, I don’t eat a lot of gluten”. Yeah, but you’re 50 years old, and you’ve been fucking eating it for the past 40 years, so that accumulates and, let’s say one bite, one crumb, can trigger an inflammatory response for weeks and months, so you might as well have eaten the whole piece of bread. Really, diet and looking at a holistic arsenal of things, and I’ll add that people believing you can reverse an autoimmune condition is just as important. We’re run by our subconscious, and 95 percent of our subconscious, most people think or are told, “Your body is attacking itself”, so if your body’s attacking itself, who can you trust if you can’t trust your own body?
Johnny: That’s very true. To delve into your journalism for a moment, as you’re an investigative journalist, I have to ask: As recently as a few days ago, Donald Trump was talking about the press being the enemy of the people. As a journalist, when you hear words like that, how do you react?
Maryam: Well, it’s not very simple, right? As a journalist, journalism has taken a deep dive to Hell, and what you read in mainstream media is not the truth. At the same time, we need responsible journalists, but I have come across a lot of mainstream information that is false. I’ll give an example. BuzzFeed put an article out about CBD oil, stating that the only study for legitimate use of CBD oil is with epilepsy. That’s just them being a shill for pharmaceutical companies that are trying to peddle their faux CBD, which is given to epileptics. That is absolutely not true. These are health editors that are not doing their homework, and there’s tons of reputable studies that have been done on CBD across the gamut. They become agents of just towing the party line, or of carrying out an agenda, and they don’t even know that they’re being used, and then they just perpetuate bullshit, so I don’t know if that answers your question.
Johnny: How would you identify your own politics?
Maryam: I’m a free-thinker. I’m not a sheep. I’m a Canadian also, so I don’t know what my politics are. I think there’s a lot of confusion between Republicans and Democrats. There’s a lot of crossover, right? Let’s say I’m a liberal, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some conservative views. Right now, I think it’s about divide-and-conquer and pitting people against one another. What happened to being able to articulate and think and speak? I have friends that are Republican that did vote for Trump. I’m not going to unfriend them, because they voted for Trump, because there’s many reasons people voted for Trump. There’s just the dumb people who actually believe his bullshit, but then there’s a whole bunch of people who were really tired of business as usual and wanted to kind of shake things up without maybe realizing the repercussions or how bad it was going to be with Trump. I don’t really identify with any political party.
Johnny: Alright. I now come to my final question, and it’s this: What topics interest you the most that you would like to tackle next in terms of your work, whether as a journalist or as a filmmaker?
Maryam: Well, I am tackling them, I think. I think I’m more interested in, rather than exposing corruption, given the heat that I’ve felt, being more focused on helping people and finding a platform, so I’m starting school in a couple of weeks to help legitimize what I’m already doing as a functional medicine coach. I kind of geek out when it comes to longevity or understanding. I consider myself a bio-hacker of how to optimize my biology and live a long time in a healthy, vibrant way.
Johnny: Alright. That about does it for my questions. I apologize for not having been better informed about your work, but I will work on catching up with it, and I do thank you for indulging me and taking the time to do this interview.
Maryam: Thank you. Thank you, Johnny, for your time and your interest. I think one has to be in a special mind space to watch a documentary about a global crisis, but I hope you will see even part of it, just to get a sense of the film-making. I’ll just tell you this: We took 300 hours and condensed it into 87 minutes over 5 years, and it only took 5 years.
Johnny: Very impressive stuff, and very admirable.
Maryam: Thank you, and have a good day.
Johnny: Thank you very much, and I hope you have a good afternoon.
Maryam: Thank you. You, too. Bye bye.
Johnny: Okay, bye.
I would like to thank Maryam Henein for taking the time to do this interview, and I would like to thank Danny Deraney for helping to set it up. For more about Maryam Henein’s work, you can visit her YouTube channel and, of course, the HoneyColony website.
Stay tuned because the Flashback Interview will be very busy over the next few months as you can look forward to a new interview with Kimmy Robertson, and first-time interviews with Shedrack Anderson, Mindi Miller, Ann Jillian, Helene Udy and Lynn Lowry. Thank you as always for your time and support. See you on the next interview.