ON SCREEN from
"Insecta," from the March 2019 issue, "A Modern Bestiary"
By Allison Palenske, contributor
The human relationship with insects is a complicated one, full of misconceptions and mismanagement of this incredibly diverse group of creatures. For hundreds of years scientists have been trying to better understand the insect world, often in order to classify the species as friend or foe to human existence.
Insecta is a five-minute experimental film created from a combination of archival audio and video, laboratory photography of magnified insect specimens, and sound recordings of chirps, buzzes, and hisses. Filmmaker Ramey Newell has layered these materials to create a work that reflects the complexity of this human-to-nonhuman relationship.
The film begins with a succession of images in which the viewer is looking eye-to-eye with the insects - their textures and markings appear in stunning detail. Footage of insects moving through their natural habitats follows, with a narration drawing attention to the otherworldliness of these creatures.
As the film progresses there is a growing unease stemming from a change in direction of the narration, with declarations that insects are the “greatest rivals” to humans and claims that “we may never eradicate a single species of insect from this earth, but we will hold the upper hand.” This commentary reveals many of the ideas held about insects in the mid-20th century, a time when insects were often depicted as the beastly antagonists in “big bug” sci-fi films and were seen as a force to be exterminated by the human race.
Recent concerns of the scientific community have diverged dramatically from this way of thinking. A paper published earlier this year on the worldwide decline of the entomofauna spurred lively debate on the severity and nuances of this issue, however many scientists agree that loss of habitat, intensive agricultural practices, and climate change have caused a loss of biodiversity amongst insect species. Research also suggests that a decline in the diversity of insect species is likely to cause detrimental effects to the survival of humankind. It is now understood that many insect species provide integral ecological functions, the evolved complexity of their physical forms reflecting the specialized niches that they fill.
Because of the scale of magnification used in portraying these insects, the visuals used in the film could easily instill a sense of trepidation or paranoia, with specimens appearing as indestructible alien organisms. However, the combination of the visuals with the narration tempts viewers to cross the fine line between fear and fascination of these creatures. This tension provokes further consideration of the role humans have had in attempting to control insect species, and natural systems as a whole.
Insecta is an homage to the insect world, while also problematizing conflicting social attitudes and scientific practices regarding our non-human counterparts. The film provides a captivating amalgamation of past and current cultural biases toward these species and actively engages in the current debate of understanding the implications of human activities on the future of our planet.