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Otto: A celebration for those who love insects

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(Photo provided)
The Insect Fear Film Festival offers a winning combination of quirkiness and science-based information. Pictured is one of two winning T-shirt designs for the 30th annual event.

If you look at the world through Hallmark-tinted glasses, you might be tempted to believe February is the month of love.

Certainly if you venture into a supermarket or gift shop, the signs of Valentine’s Day are all around – even now, two days after we observed our annual tribute to the Saint of Love. (In fact, some frugal romantics I know insist this is the best time to celebrate, since all the Valentine merchandise is half-price.)

But there are those among us who view February in a completely different light. Instead of rejoicing over romance and relationships, these folks gather each year to revel in the glory of the one group of animals that outnumbers all others on Earth: the class Insecta.

For the past 30 years, the Entomology Graduate Student Association at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has hosted the Insect Fear Film Festival, an evening of feature-length and short films starring creepy crawlies of all kinds and sizes.

Despite its name, the event actually pays homage to all the good things insects, and in fact all arthropods, do for our planet ... despite filmmakers’ best efforts to make us believe otherwise.

As May Berenbaum, a UIUC entomology professor and department head, not to mention Insect Fear founder, explains, IFFF was created as a means to improve the public image of bugs and their kin. “Insects remain the one familiar and conspicuous group which is politically correct to hate,” she says on the EGSA website. “Probably for this reason, Hollywood has shown no inclination to stop producing bad insect science fiction films; 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.”

Each year, EGSA students select a theme for the fest. Sometimes specific to a certain order (in 2008 it was Hymenoptera, and the films were “Bee Movie” and “Antz”), sometimes more general in nature (2010, the last year I attended, the theme was Prehistoric Insects), the event always includes a student art contest as well as a number of interactive displays and exhibits, and the ever-popular Insect Petting Zoo. (Thinking it’s been a while since you touched a tarantula or let a cockroach scurry over your fingers? Here’s your chance to interact with these creatures, and more.)

The theme for this year’s fest is The Ins-X Files: The Truth (about insects) is out there. Besides an insect-themed episode of television’s drama “The X-Files,” the evening also will feature the “X-Files” movie “Fight the Future” and not one but two 30-minute Q-and-A sessions with “X-Files” creator Chris Carter.

IFFF is held in UIUC’s Foellinger Auditorium. Doors open at 6 p.m. Introductions begin at 7 p.m. and the “X-Files” episode “War of the Coprophages” – yes, that means poop-eaters – starts at 7:30. (Spoiler alert: Characters in this episode include Sheriff Frass, a name entomology buffs will recognize as a reference to insect droppings, and Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, a USDA scientist.) After an intermission and the first Q&A session, “Fight the Future” hits the big screen. The evening concludes with a final Q&A session with Chris Carter.

Nature Nerds, take comfort knowing that the truth about insects is out there; better yet, it’s only three hours away by car. I know I’ll be attending. Will you?

• Pam Otto, who’s stocked up on all sorts of half-price Valentine treats in anticipation of a road trip, is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or potto@stcparks.org.

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