“When we began, Ronald Reagan was in office, materialism was rampant, and insect movies were terrible; today, there's a democratic president in Washington, environmental awareness and volunteerism are more fashionable, and insect movies are still terrible; it's nice to know that there are some things in life to count on.” – May Berenbaum describes the history of the festival (EGSA 2014)
Each spring, the Entomology Graduate Student Association holds their annual Insect Fear Film Festival (IFFF) on the university campus. Initiated by Professor May Berenbaum in 1984, the IFFF is a free event open to the public that is intended to educate attendees about insects while feeding their love of terrible insect movies. Feature-length films and animated shorts are shown at each festival in addition to activities such as an insect petting zoo and face painting (EGSA 2014). An annual t-shirt, designed by a graduate student, is sold at the festival. Since the tenth festival in 1994, a children's insect art contest, held in conjunction with the Natural History museum, is organized by the graduate students and judged by volunteers from campus and the community (EGSA 2014).
May Berenbaum originally pitched the idea of an insect fear film festival while she was an entomology graduate student at Cornell University. She was told the idea was “undignified” and was shot down, but finally found success with the idea at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1984 (Newman 2013). Eventually, the festival began to be organized around themes, from female insects, spiders and cockroaches, to the 31st festival theme of pesticides. Films are selected that fit within each festival’s theme. For the 10th festival in 1994, insect treats were served (EGSA 2014)!
“Knowledge is power, and this festival is all about equipping people with knowledge so they no longer have to be afraid,” Berenbaum said. “And (it) can also educate the public about how important insects are.” (Kahn 2014)
2014 marks the 31st anniversary of the Insect Fear Film Festival.