Archive for February, 2013

Daily Illini: X-Files creator speaks at University’s Fear Film Festival

Feb-25-2013
X-Files creator speaks at University’s Fear Film Festival
Daily Illini
Austin Keating

[Original article here]

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Foellinger Auditorium was packed with insect enthusiasts to celebrate the 30th annual Insect Fear Film Festival, sponsored by the entomology department.

The event was called “The Ins-X Files,” and Chris Carter, creator of the science fiction series “The X-Files,” spoke at the event and answered audience questions after screenings of his productions.

“I always try to accept all the invitations I get to stuff that honors ‘The X-Files’ because it was something I worked very hard on,” Carter said. “If people are willing to throw something in our honor, I’m more than happy to honor them by showing up.”

Other event attractions included a cockroach petting zoo, an art competition with local K-12 students and face painting.

May Berenbaum, event organizer and head of the department of entomology, said she felt a special connection to one of the screened productions, an “X-Files” episode called “War of Coprophages.”

“I was just ecstatic when I asked Chris Carter to pick from the nine or so episodes that feature insects, and he picked ‘War of the Coprophages,’” she said. “The screenwriter had used some of the books I had written as background, and when it came time to name the entomologist in that episode, he thought ‘Berenbaum’ was a good name, so he used it.”

Berenbaum said the goal of the event was to dispel the fear of insects generated by media.

“Always our goal is for people to gain a deeper appreciation of insects as they really are, which, as entomologists, we know is almost stranger than fiction,” Berenbaum said.


Hundreds of insect enthusiasts filled Foellinger Auditorium on Saturday night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the entomology department’s Insect Fear Film Festival.

The event was called “The Ins-X Files,” and Chris Carter, the creator of “The X-Files” spoke at the event. The Daily Illini sat down with Carter to discuss the festival.

 Daily Illini: Why did you choose to show “War of Coprophages” out of all the episodes about insects in “The X-Files”?

Chris Carter: Because of May Berenbaum (festival creator), it was the obvious episode to show, and because it’s one of the best episodes of the show.

DI: What efforts did you take to make the show more realistic?

CC: We were really rigorous in our science research because, for me, the story’s only as scary as it is believable, so it’s got to start with real science, and then the science fiction is built in on that.

DI: “The X-Files” was really the first science fiction horror show of its kind. Was it difficult getting that past studio executives in the mid-’90s?

CC: It’s hard to get … anything past the studio executives. They’re always braced for failure. … I always say they dare you to succeed because most things fail, and they’re certain that when you’re making something in the beginning that you are tempting fate and failure by making whatever choice you make, so it’s a very nervous process.

DI: What was your major inspiration behind “The X-Files”?

CC: There were many inspirations. One of the big ones was a show that was on when I was a kid. It was called “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” It really wasn’t all that much like “The X-Files,” but it was scary and I wanted to do something as scary as “Night Stalker.”

DI: There are people from across the United States who came here to see you speak. When you first started “The X-Files,” did you feel like it would become as big as it is now?

CC: No. It’s still amazing and surprising to me. It’s really one of the reasons we come to these things. Because when we were working on this show so hard for all those years, you really kept your head down. You worked really hard, and this is for me the wonderful result, a product of all that hard work. It’s a really nice thing.

DI: Not many people know that Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad,” was a writer for your show. What do you make of his recent success?

CC: I couldn’t be a bigger fan. He’s created a masterpiece, and it’s not surprising to me because he’s one of the most original and bright minds in our business.

DI: What shows are you watching now?

CC: I’ve been watching “Breaking Bad.” I just watched the 13 episodes of “House of Cards,” which just came on Netflix. I went back and watched five years of “The Wire” recently, which was great. I just watched the pilot to “The Americans,” which I thought was good. I tend to go with something I like that’s been on before and watch it all, it’s just how I do it.

DI: What projects do you have going? What are your plans for the future?

CC: I have something with Showtime that might go this year. I’m talking to AMC about a possible television series.

DI: So what do you do with your free time?

CC: Well, I work really hard. When you’re in production on a TV show or two, you couldn’t be any busier. There’s not a moment in the day where you can goof off. So now I have moments in the day where I can kind of goof off right now, which is a luxury in my business, and I’m enjoying all those moments before I go into production again.

Austin can be reached at akkeati2@dailyillini.com.

National Geographic Magazine: Insect Fear Film Festival

Feb-22-2013
Insect Fear Film Festival: Just Like Cannes, Only With Spiders and Scorpions Instead of Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt
National Geographic Magazine, Pop Omnivore
Cathy Newman

[Original article here]

When it comes to generating buzz, it’s hard to beat the Insect Fear Film Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary on Saturday, February 23.  The lights will dim in the Foellinger Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The screen will light up. Skin will crawl— as will a cinematic parade of members of the phylum Arthropoda, which includes spiders, scorpions and insects. One of the featured films will be War of the Coprophages” from season 3 of The X-Files, which features killer cockroaches.

The bug film fest was the idea of Professor May Berenbaum, head of the university’s Department of Entomology. “It’s about education,” she says, and righting the wrongs done to “the most misunderstood taxon on the planet.”  National Geographic Editor at Large Cathy Newman caught her between classes to talk about the event.

Let’s talk about how the idea of the Insect Fear Film Festival was…pardon my saying so…hatched.

I was a graduate student in entomology at Cornell University, walking across campus when I saw a sign advertising a showing of Godzilla, sponsored by the Asian Student Association.  ‘If they can have fun, so can we,” I thought. When I pitched the idea of an insect fear festival, my department head said it was undignified.

Many years later, when I was on the faculty here at the University of Illinois and established in the field, I tried again. My department head loved it.  We held the first festival in 1984.

How does it compare with Cannes?

Well, it’s not so much about film as insects. And we don’t have premieres.  The goal is education through entertainment. For our purposes a film doesn’t have to be excellent.

I imagine most insect films meet the criteria of non-excellence. Is there anything above a grade B film in the genre?

The granddaddy of them all is Them! A 1954 film about an encounter with a race of giant ants.  It was nominated for an Oscar and was Warner Brothers’ biggest grossing film that year.  Angels and Insects (1995) won an Academy Award for costumes. Many big actors got their start in bug films. Clint Eastwood appeared as the jet pilot in Tarantula (1955). Leonard Nimoy appears in Braineaters (1958).

Are there trends in insect films?

In the 1950s big bug films were popular—oversized insects made so by radiation. What causes the mutation differs with the era.  Genetically engineered big bugs came in the 1990s. In the 1970s, swarms were popular.

Is the film festival an attempt to proselytize the public and convert them to the cult of entomology?

It’s a plea for tolerance. Yes, there are bad actors in the insect world. Insects that have caused pain and suffering. Insects are vectors of disease. They consume 30 percent of the world’s crops. But there are far more good guys than bad guys. They recycle and can tackle materials not otherwise broken down. They pollinate. Without insects the world would be bleak and inhospitable.

How did you get interested in insects?

I used to be afraid of them. I would go out of my way not to cross the path of a caterpillar. But I always wanted to be a biologist and at Yale, when I placed out of introductory biology, a course on terrestrial arthropods was the only one available. I confronted my fears and here I am today.

Do you have a favorite insect? And a favorite insect film?

I’m asked about my favorite insect all the time. Do you ask an English major their favorite author?  Each has its own appeal. As far as film, it would be Beginning of the End, a 1957 film in which giant irradiated grasshoppers attack central Illinois, end up in Chicago, and drown in Lake Michigan. One reason I like it is because it starts out here in central Illinois, but it is clearly not filmed here because you can see mountains in the background.

If you have a fly or cockroach in your house do you catch and release it outside?

It depends on the fly. I know which ones pose a risk and which don’t. I have a low tolerance for mosquitoes because they carry disease. Of course there are mosquitoes that pollinate orchids. No one species is totally irredeemable.  As far as insects in the house, I’m perfectly happy to escort the harmless ones outside.