Totally Buggin’

By Elizabeth Weber

Insects. For some people they are nothing more than pesky critters, while for others, just the thought of them makes their skin crawl.

However, the annual Insect Fear Film Festival, sponsored by the Entomology Graduate Student Association, aims to continue its goal of poking fun at people’s insect phobias. With this year’s theme surrounding Japanese insect fear films, the festival will demonstrate how Eastern cultures’ perspectives of insects contrast from our own.

“This year we’re looking at insects through another cultural lense,” said May Berenbaum, head of the Entomology Department at the University and creator of the festival. “The disgust of insects is not a world view shared by everyone.”

To go with the Japanese theme, one of the main stars of the festival will be none other than Mothra, a city-destroying moth made famous by appearances in Godzilla films. Berenbaum said she believes Mothra epitomizes the difference between eastern and western cultures with respect to insects.

“Over there, (Mothra is) a beloved icon,” she said. “She achieved a measure of fame unequaled by any giant insect in any film genre.”

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    Along with featuring two Mothra films, short-length Anime and Manga films will also be shown at the event, which Berenbaum hopes will attract fans of both genres to the festival.

    “I think insects are appealing in Anime and Manga because they are very robot-like,” she said. “They’re very well-suited to the drawing style, which is why there are already so many different insect images and references.”

    Entering its 24th year, the idea for the festival originated when Berenbaum was a grad student at Cornell University. At the time, the Asian-American Society was sponsoring a Godzilla festival and she considered it a fun idea for the entomology department to sponsor their own.

    “I thought if the Asian-American students could have a sense of humor about who they are, why can’t entomologists,” she said.

    Unfortunately for Berenbaum, the department deemed the idea inappropriate.

    After graduating, she came to the University and worked as an assistant professor for a few years to establish herself as a “solid citizen” before bringing the idea to the department head.

    This time around, Berenbaum was in luck as she gained the support she needed to launch the festival.

    Since its debut in 1984, other entomology departments across the country have begun their own film festival traditions.

    Besides film viewings, the festival also features interactive exhibits including a petting zoo, face-painting booth, insect collections and an insect art competition.

    The art competition features work from students in grades K-12 and awards prizes for categories based on five student grade levels, best technical art and most frightening.

    In fact, many of these interactive booths draw more crowds than the films, especially the petting zoo.

    However, Pete Reagel, graduate student in Entomology, knows that running this kind of exhibit comes with its fair share of difficulty.

    “Last year it was probably as cold that night as it is currently and every time the doors opened the cold wind would come in and the insects became immobile,” he said. “You could pick them up and they wouldn’t move. I felt pretty sorry for them.”

    Even more difficult than the cold weather is occasionally dealing with the interaction between the live insects and humans, especially the younger crowds.

    “I think I would be more afraid of the tarantulas getting hurt than the kids,” said Liz Graham, graduate student in Entomology and T-shirt vendor at the festival.

    “We’ve had kids hold insects before and drop them and normally it’s not that big of a deal, but things like tarantulas are real sensitive,” she added.

    Befriend a bug

    The Insect Fear Film Festival is on Saturday, Feb. 24 at Foellinger Auditorium. Doors open at 6 p.m. The film screenings will begin promptly at 7 p.m. For more information about the festival and its history, visit