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‘Burt’s Buzz’: Droning on about a quasi-eccentric

Burt Shavitz visits Taiwan behalf Burt’s Bees personal care products company he co-founded but now merely fronts.  |

Burt Shavitz visits Taiwan on behalf of Burt’s Bees, the personal care products company he co-founded but now merely fronts. | FILMBUFF

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FilmBuff presents a documentary directed by Jody Shapiro. Running time: 88 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Bees buzz little in “Burt’s Buzz.” What Canadian filmmaker Jody Shapiro is documenting is the hyping of Burt’s Bees, not the humming of insects lending their wax to lip balm and countless other products. Since 1984 Burt Shavitz has lent his face to the “Earth friendly, Natural Personal Care Company” he co-founded in Maine.

The local artisan who originally engraved the Burt’s Bees design is interviewed. We only meet the other co-founder, Shavitz’s former lover, in clips from CNBC’s “How I Made My Millions.”

Shavitz no longer owned part of Burt’s Bees when Clorox bought it for almost a billion dollars in 2007. He got almost nothing. Now he makes personal appearances to maintain brand identity. Shapiro follows this corporate mascot to Taiwan and a Minneapolis Wal-Mart so customers can meet the logo on the labels.

Shapiro fails to sell Shavitz as the “wise and wry, ornery and opinionated” figure the press notes promise. No opinion, wise or otherwise, is uttered by this rustic quasi-eccentric, let alone a green ethos. One exec, though, told the Canadian Business Journal: “We believe nature has an inherent wisdom and so we look for the answers in nature and bring the solutions into Burt’s Bees products.”

A young assistant attempts to put words in his employer’s mouth for usable soundbites. The rather withdrawn Shavitz is most expressive when Skyping with Sasha, his beloved Labrador Retriever. At Friday’s screening, Shapiro will appear via Skype. A giveaway of Burt’s Bees products is promised.

Nowhere does “Burt’s Buzz” back-up its Toronto director’s claim that “he had made a large impact around the world.” Sara Lamm’s “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox” (2006) documents a more intriguing character, and Morgan Spurlock’s ironic documentary “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” (2011) is more intrigued with hustling natural products. Shapiro renders his subject with stingless honey.

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