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Playing at the Mead: Memoirs

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Close-up of a locust flying with outstretched wings.
© Robert Nugent

In the horror-film genre “nature gone wild,” masses of murderous insects and animals are a staple, from the hornets in Swarmed to cockroaches in They Crawl, killer worms in Squirmto rats in Willard, and, of course, the birds in, well, The Birds. But can anything be more chilling than the real thing?

In the documentary Memoirs of a Plague—which makes its U.S. premiere Friday, November 11, at the 35th Annual Margaret Mead Film Festival—people in Ethiopia, Egypt, and Australia endure locust invasions of a magnitude that must be seen to be believed. With the suspense of the impending infestation hanging over the narrative, director Robert Nugent, one of this year’s contenders for the coveted Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award, mixes archival footage with contemporary interviews and vivid camera work to tell of past “plagues” and preparations for new ones on the way. An Australian with a degree in natural resource management who once ran projects for the United Nations against locusts in Afghanistan and rice pests in Cambodia, Nugent introduces viewers to entomologists who work to understand the nature of this feared destroyer of crops. (Spoiler alert: there is a live dissection!)

Memoirs of a Plague

Memoirs of a Plague

All the while, farmers anxiously wait and pilots load their planes with insecticide. When the day finally comes, the sky goes black with locusts, coming on in hoards and like a hurricane. In scene after scene, no surface is untouched by the voracious insects. This documentary might easily, and honestly, be summed up with the classic thriller tease: They’re alive! They’re coming! And who will stop them—and how?

Click here to see the full Margaret Mead Film Festival line-up and to watch trailers, or visit to buy tickets and make a personalized schedule.