It’s a bug’s life at Illinois

Whether they were watching them in a live ant zoo or on the big screen, those who attended the 29th annual Insect Fear Film Festival got the chance to view ants from all over the world Saturday night at Foellinger Auditorium.

May Berenbaum, entomology department head and festival founder, said the idea for the film festival came to her when she was in graduate school at Cornell University. When she came across a poster advertising a Godzilla festival, she said she wanted to organize a similar event featuring fear-provoking films about insects.

After a year of working at the University, she shared her proposal with Stanley Friedman, the entomology department head at the time, who “enthusiastically embraced” the idea. The first film festival was held in March 1984 and has been an annual success ever since, Berenbaum said.

“Now, we’re emulated by entomologist departments all over the country,” she added.

Throughout the years, Berenbaum said she started developing themes for each festival. This year’s theme, “International Ants,” was timely, she said, because many of the professors from the department who worked with ants were able to bring in ant zoos, containing trap jaw ants and odorous house ants, and other live bug exhibits.

The first hour of the festival contained these exhibits, as well as other hands-on activities like face painting. Drawings from the annual art contest were also displayed, of which Mariam Arif, 14, was the winner. She said although this was her first time entering the contest and attending the festival, she thought it was a great experience.

“I think this (event) is pretty great,” Arif said. “I like all the insects you can see and touch, and I like how you can see everyone else’s drawings too.”

Once Berenbaum gave her opening statements and distributed awards for the winners of the art contest, she showed short films and family-friendly clips about ants. Later in the night, the two longer films — “Glass Trap” and “The Bone Snatcher” — were shown.

Marc-Anthony Macon, University alumnus, said he attends the film festival every year he can, and he loves the “really bad and horrifying movies” that Berenbaum shows.

“I love the communal aspect of it,” Macon said. “I’m really excited to see the community getting together over a dorky science thing like this. It’s a lot of fun.”

Berenbaum agreed, saying she hopes these festivals are a fun and educational way to bring students and families together to learn about insects.

“I think (attendees) can learn a lot about ants and are more favorably disposed to insects in general, which is the goal here: for people to stop and think before they step on something.”