“Have you ever been bitten by a dead bee? That’s the question Walter Brennan’s alcoholic deckhand asks Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Howard Hawks’ 1944 classic “To Have and Have Not.”
Is it possible? Well, that’s one of the many questions that will be answered at Saturday’s 39th Annual Insect Fear Film Festival. Sponsored by the Graduate Entomology Student Association and the University of Illinois Department of Entomology, this year’s festival focuses on “venom.” (Sorry, Marvel fans, not that Venom, although there will be a montage of Marvel spider bites. Also, sorry herpetologists, but no snakes either – just arthropods.)
This year’s festival is once again happening online rather than in person, but still includes all of its familiar entomological activities – films, exhibits, Bugscope, a (virtual) petting zoo, craft classes on making your own insect toys and the K-12 Art Contest and Prizes, which were open to all students, not just those in art class.
If you haven’t participated in past festivals, you can take advantage of this opportunity to participate comfortably from home without the risk of coming into contact with real insects – a real advantage this year, when the theme is about stings, bites and poisons. and the pain they inflict.
Admission is free and open to all, but as it is broadcast on Zoom, you will need to register in advance. The group’s website (publish.illinois.edu/uiuc-egsa/ifff/) will post a Zoom link so you can register in advance.
The festival opens with an online chat with University of Arizona entomologist Dr. Justin Schmidt, author of “The Sting of the Wild” (2016) and creator of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. His book describes what various arthropod stings feel like (from personal experience of over 80 stings), savoring them with enthusiasm and terms analogous to what a wine connoisseur might use to describe a wine (a painful wine). You will be able to ask him all your questions related to injections (as long as they do not concern the singer Sting).
Adapting once again to an online format, this year’s cinema component will consist exclusively of short films and music videos. Highlights will include classic cartoons, feature-length clips (including Walter’s zombie-bee query), and short documentaries. The films fall into three categories: bites as plot elements, anaphylactic (allergic) reactions to bites, and the benefits of venom (for science).
Specific documentary questions include: what is it like to be bitten by a murder hornet; what are the medical uses of bee, spider and scorpion venom; do bees always die once they sting you; what should you do if you get bitten; and what is the most painful place to be stung by a bee?
The last is answered in a recorded interview with Dr. Michael Smith, who won a 2015 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for being repeatedly stung by bees in 25 body locations to determine which were the most and less painful.
Exhibits will include graduate entomology students leading tours of live insect zoos and demonstrating various crafts you can use to create your own sting-free insect pictures and toys. Dr. Tommy McElrath, curator of the Illinois Natural History Survey insect collection, will tour his preserved specimens. And Cate Wallace, head of the Microscopy Suite in the User Interface Imaging Technology Group, will be using the Bugscope electron microscope to show you really close-up views of insects.
A special (and totally painless) treat for young festival-goers will be ventriloquist Hannah Leskosky (correct, girl) with her talking bee pal, Buzz. Since he’s a bee boy, he doesn’t have a stinger, which is probably just as well, since he’s 2 feet tall.
And, of course, the festival’s founder and head of the user interface entomology department, Professor May Berenbaum (also my wife, I should note), will present prizes to the winners of the art competition and present the films , will discuss the biology of stinging and biting arthropods and their venoms (why and how they do it) and alert viewers to what the movies have right or wrong. In other words, she will tell you what to laugh about and what to worry about.
The festival schedule, at the time of this writing, is as follows (but check the Graduate Student Group website for possible changes – and to register):
5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.:
- “The Sting of the Wild”, an online conversation with Dr. Justin Schmidt of the University of Arizona.
5:30 p.m. to 5:50 p.m.:
- Visit the insect collection with Dr. Tommy McElrath.
5:50 p.m. to 6:05 p.m.:
- Virtual zoo of insects (ants, bees and wasps).
6:05 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.:
- Bee Ventriloquism with Hannah Leskosky and Buzz the Bee.
6:15 p.m. to 6:20 p.m.:
6:20 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.:
6:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.:
- Virtual insect zoo (tarantulas).
6:45 p.m. to 7:05 p.m.:
- Bugscope with Cate Wallace.
7:05 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.:
- Art exhibition and winner announcements with Dr. May Berenbaum.
7:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.:
- Introduction to Films with Berenbaum.
7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.:
- Movies — too many to list individually!
And remember, you can enter and leave the festival as often as you like, but you must register in advance. Just go to publish.illinois.edu/uiuc-egsa/ifff/ and click on the link to register. You can also Google “EGSA IFFF 2022” to access the page without having to enter this URL.
The website will also contain information on purchasing t-shirts and other festival merchandise through an online service.
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and film studies at the University of Illinois and edited films for over 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter (@RichardLeskosky).