'Truth,' bugs and fun at Insect Fear Film Festival

'Truth,' bugs and fun at Insect Fear Film Festival

The Insect Fear Film Festival sponsored by the Entomology Graduate Students Association on the University of Illinois campus celebrates its 30th anniversary this year on Saturday — and the celebration includes a very special guest and something of a change from its traditional format.

Chris Carter, creator of the acclaimed and long-running television series, "The X-Files," will be present for the screening of the series episode "War of the Coprophages" and the 1998 feature film "The X-Files: Fight the Future."

The episode deals with what appear to be attacks on humans by cockroaches and perhaps even alien cockroaches, and the feature involves a peculiarly "X-Files" take on killer bees. Producer/director/writer Carter will participate in question-and-answer sessions after each screening.

As fans of the festival know, insect fear films do not usually exhibit the finer qualities of filmmaking or screenwriting, and festival founder and UI Entomology Department head Professor May Berenbaum typically provides commentaries explaining why what is seen on the screen could not happen in real life.

But Carter's TV series was nominated for numerous awards — winning Golden Globes three times for best series, drama and others — and the feature was well-received by audiences and critics.

Also, writer Darin Morgan derived most of the dialogue about insects in "War of the Coprophages" from Berenbaum's own writings and even named a character, entomologist Bambi Berenbaum, after her. So these are undoubtedly among the most accurate descriptions of insect behavior to screen at the festival in its 30 years, and there won't be the usual gaffes to point out.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I am married to Professor Berenbaum, who does not dress like Bambi, and who, contrary to the "X-Files" Wiki, does not keep live insects in her desk.)

Both the episode and the feature follow FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they investigate unusual phenomena outside the usual criminal activities the Bureau handles. Mulder tends to look for paranormal causes of the events that come their way; Scully, trained as a doctor, remains a skeptic and tries to explain the unusual in terms of what is already known.

The series, which ran on the Fox channel from 1993 to 2002, relied on two sorts of episodes. One, which the makers came to call the "Monster of the Week" variety, was a self-contained story dealing with a single odd event or creature. The other sort told an overarching story of a vast conspiracy involving extraterrestrial interference in human history and a government cover-up of the facts and spanned the whole series as its "Mythology"— the story behind its stories.

"War of the Coprophages" is a "Monster of the Week" episode, involving possibly homicidal, possibly alien roaches as well as a possible romantic interest for Mulder. The feature film deals with the series mythology, but from its earliest stages Carter intended it to be understood and appreciated both by fans and by viewers who had no knowledge of the series.

Festival viewers, no matter what their level of familiarity with "The X-Files," should be able to enjoy the whole program.

"War of the Coprophages" (coprophages are dung-eaters, in this case roaches) sees Mulder, off on his own, accidentally involved in investigating an odd series of deaths in a small town, all of which seem to involve cockroaches. Nosing around a nearby government lab, he wanders into a house literally crawling with roaches and also meets Dr. Bambi Berenbaum (Bobbie Phillips), who fills him in on roach biology.

When Scully finally arrives, her usual skepticism increases when she notes Mulder's obvious attraction to the entomologist.

"The X-Files: Fight the Future" sees Mulder and Scully investigating the bombing of a building in Dallas only to find links to a mysterious and deadly discovery outside a nearby town and to a wide-ranging conspiracy that threatens the whole human race.

The conspiracy involves an international cabal of older men who have been scheming for decades to keep the knowledge of extraterrestrial activity on earth from reaching the public — and worse.

The truth may be "out there" as one of the series' tag lines asserts, but the truth, as well as the bugs and the fun, will definitely be inside the Foellinger Auditorium on Saturday.


If you go

What: The 30th Insect Fear Film Festival

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23

Where: Foellinger Auditorium at the south end of the University of Illinois Quadrangle

Admission: Free


6-7 p.m.: Adults and children can enjoy an insect petting zoo; view displays of exotic mounted arthropods and exhibits of new technological developments in entomology; have their faces painted with multilegged designs; and look over an art show featuring the entries in the annual insect art competition (winners of the competition will be announced before the screenings begin); T-shirts from this year's festival and some past festivals will be available for purchase.

7 p.m.: UI Professor May Berenbaum will make her introductory remarks and present a special plaque to "X-Files" creator Chris Carter, honoring him for his franchise's creative treatment of insects

7:30 p.m.: "War of the Coprophages" will screen, followed by a half-hour question-and-answer session with Carter

8:45 p.m.: "The X-Files: Fight the Future" will screen, followed by another Q&A session


Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at filmcritic@comcast.net.