Insect Fear Film Festival Celebrates 40 Years of entertaining and educating
The theme for the 40th annual festival is living fossils – organisms that appear to have not changed in 400 million years. It is an appropriate theme for celebrating the longevity of the film festival, said May Berenbaum, the founder of the festival and the head of the entomology department.
“Frankly, I never expected the Insect Fear Film Festival to last 40 years. We’re pretty durable, as well,” Berenbaum said.
In a history of the film festival on the Entomology Graduate Student Association website, Berenbaum wrote that she came up with the idea while a graduate student at Cornell University, but the department head at Cornell thought the type of films she had in mind would be too undignified. After coming to Illinois as an assistant professor, she pitched the idea again and then-department head Stanley Friedman enthusiastically agreed.
Many of the films shown are campy science fiction and horror films featuring insects – the festival’s tagline is “scaring the general public with horrific films and horrific filmmaking.” They offer Berenbaum the opportunity to point out what the filmmakers get wrong about insects and to provide accurate information. Since the first film festival in 1984, the event has shown at least 80 feature films and 90 short films and attracted more than 12,000 people, Berenbaum said.
“Insects remain the one familiar and conspicuous group which is politically correct to hate. Probably for this reason, Hollywood has shown no inclination to stop producing bad insect science fiction films either. While the effects certainly are getting better, the biology is not. As long as they keep disseminating disinformation about the most misunderstood taxon on the planet, we have an obligation to counter with the truth about insects,” she wrote in the festival history.
The living fossils that are the subject of this year’s festival include cockroaches and dragonflies, which are insects, and horseshoe crabs and velvet worms, which are not. Horseshoe crabs are not really crabs either, but ancient relatives of spiders, Berenbaum said. They and the other creatures look identical to fossils dating from 350 million to 450 million years ago. They likely have evolved in some ways but their appearance remains the same, she said.
“All these weird and remarkable creatures have been around for a very long time but keeping a low profile. Velvet worms are ancient, but nobody’s heard of them except invertebrate biologists,” Berenbaum said. “They’re arthropod-adjacent. Even many entomologists have never heard of them.”
More information about the event can be found at the EGSA website: https://publish.illinois.edu/uiuc-egsa/ifff/. This event is FREE and open to the public. Activities begin at 5:30 pm CST, and shorts and feature film introductions start at 7:30 pm. A full schedule will be available on our website.
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Editor: Jodi Heckel